The death toll from Turkey’s flash floods has risen to 38 as emergency crews searched for more victims and survivors in the devastated Black Sea region just as the country was gaining control over hundreds of wildfires.
The health minister, Fahrettin Koca, announced on Twitter late on Friday that 32 people died in Kastamonu province, along the Black Sea, and six in the neighbouring area of Sinop. The toll was also reported by the government’s disaster agency AFAD.
An unknown number of people are missing. Opposition politician Hasan Baltacı told Halk TV that residents had contacted authorities seeking information about 329 people still feared missing.
The president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visited one of the hardest-hit cities on Friday. He attended a funeral for the first victims and led a prayer before a few hundred residents in the inundated city of Kastamonu.
“We will do whatever we can as a state as quickly as we can, and rise from the ashes,” Erdoğan, who cancelled celebrations marking his ruling party’s 20th anniversary, told the crowd. “We can’t bring back the citizens we lost, but our state has the means and power to compensate those who lost loved ones.”
Weeks earlier, the Turkish leader was condemned on social media for tossing out bags of tea to locals while visiting one of the fire-ravaged areas at the end of July.
Erdoğan has promised to reconstruct demolished homes, roads and bridges. “Like many parts of the world, our country has been struggling with natural disasters for a while. It’s the same in America, Canada, Germany and other parts of Europe,” he said.
The flooding that has demolished homes and bridges and swept away cars began on Wednesday, sparked by torrential rains that pounded the Black Sea coastal provinces of Bartın, Kastamonu, Sinop and Samsun.
More than 1,700 people were evacuated across the region, some lifted from rooftops by helicopters, and many were being temporarily housed in student dormitories.
In Kastamonu, a stream burst its banks and inundated the town of Bozkurt. A number of bodies washed up on the Black Sea shore, Halk TV reported, airing footage of people carrying a body bag on a beach in an unidentified province.
Images on social media showed bridges collapsing under the force of the rushing waters and roads buckling from mudslides. Nearly 200 villages were still without electricity on Friday, the authorities said.
The missing include 12-year-old twin sisters and their grandparents, who were trapped inside the eight-storey building that collapsed in Bozkurt. Emergency crews were seen sifting through the rubble searching for survivors.
“They told us, ‘Move your cars higher’. They didn’t say ‘Save your lives, save your children’,” the girls’ mother, Arzu Yucel, told the DHA news agency. “I could have gotten them out of there.”
Anger appeared to be building in Black Sea towns and cities over what some said was a lack of proper warning from local officials about the dangers of the incoming storms.
Bozkurt resident Yilmaz Ersevenli told NTV that he left his house to move his car to a safe area as the floodwaters began to rise but soon got swept away. He said he managed to save himself by holding on to a tree that had also washed away.
“I nearly lost my life trying to save my car,” he said.
The devastation across Turkey’s northern Black Sea regions came just as the disaster-hit country was gaining control over hundreds of wildfires that killed eight people and destroyed swathes of forest along its scenic southern coast.
Weather services predicted rains to continue to lash the affected area for the remainder of the week.
With AP and Agence France-Presse