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Living Below Zero in Van

Monday, November 14, 2011

Earthquake survivors in Van, in eastern Turkey, try to keep warm as snow falls and temperatures drop around their tents. UMCOR is partnering with International Blue Crescent and GlobalMedic to assist.
International Blue Crescent, UMCOR partner in Turkey and elsewhere

Living conditions among earthquake survivors in the eastern Turkey city of Van are becoming increasingly harsh, as snow falls and temperatures dip below minus 8 degrees Celsius (about 17 degrees Fahrenheit).

Some 600 people died and 3,700 buildings were rendered uninhabitable after the October 23 earthquake near Van. Then last week’s 5.6-magnitude aftershock in the same area caused the collapse of an additional 25 buildings in the city and another 26 deaths.

Buses and trains are full of people leaving Van because of the lack of safe shelters and the loss of property and belongings.

The city begins to look like a ghost town, with the only sounds of life coming from the temporary camps established for those who lost their homes in the disaster. Schools are closed in the entire province until December 5.

Those whose homes were damaged do not want to enter them because of cracks in the structures and the expectation of further damage as a result of new aftershocks. For them, there are no temporary homes or systematic official response, and many have gone to stay with relatives in the villages, where they feel conditions are safer.

Meanwhile, snow is falling, covering the tents, and harsh winter winds pound the camps, making people more desperate. Because of sporadic electricity cuts, electrical heaters provide little solace, and blankets and sleeping bags remain in short supply.

In the villages around Van and the town of Ercis, survivors seek both to protect their families in tents and makeshift shelters and to protect their livestock, on which they rely for income. There is an emerging need for safe shelter for the animals as well as for feed.

The prefabricated homes some have received from the state are susceptible to the cold and are small for the typically large families of the region. But those who have secured a temporary home or tent feel fortunate compared to those who have not, as bitter complaints grow.

Despite the cold and harsh conditions in and around Van, children can be seen playing soccer in the open areas of the temporary camps. Their ability to find joy in the midst of adversity is a sign of hope to their parents and neighbors.

You can help the people of Van with your gift to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450. Please earmark your check “Turkey earthquake.”

International Blue Crescent, UMCOR partner in Turkey and elsewhere

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