Anger at local officials appears to be building in Turkey’s Black Sea towns and cities as the death toll from flash floods that have devastated the region rose to at least 40 on Saturday, with hundreds reported missing.
According to the latest figures released by Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), 36 people had lost their lives in Kastamonu province, on the Black Sea, while seven others had died in the neighboring area of Sinop and one more in Bartın in flash floods since Wednesday.
Locals from the affected areas accused local officials of a lack of proper warning about the dangers of the incoming storms.
“They told us to move our cars, but they didn’t tell us to save ourselves or our children,” Kastamonu resident Arzu Yücel told the DHA news agency.
“If they had, I would have taken them and left in five minutes. They didn’t even tell us that the river was overflowing,” she said.
Turkey’s rugged Black Sea coast is dotted with villages built along valleys that frequently experience heavy flooding in the summer months.
Some longtime residents said this year’s flooding was the worst they could recall.
Emergency services said waters briefly rose in some areas as high as four meters (13 feet) before subsiding and spreading across a region more than 240 kilometers (150 miles) wide.
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, authorities said.
Engin Altay, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said in a press statement late Friday in the Bozkurt district of Kastamonu, one of the hardest-hit areas, that although the number of missing hadn’t been officially determined, AFAD had been informed that at least 329 people were missing.
Mustafa Çukurkol, district head of Bozkurt from the opposition Felicity Party (SP), also claimed during a TV program on Friday that between 250 and 300 unidentified bodies were found by the authorities in the district.
“Official sources are expected to confirm this information in the next several hours,” Çukurkol added.
The devastation across Turkey’s northern Black Sea region came just as the country was gaining control over nearly 300 wildfires that killed eight people and destroyed swathes of forest along its scenic southern coast.
Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), which recently issued warnings to TV stations threatening them with punishment if they covered Turkey’s wildfires, issued another warning on Friday regarding coverage of flash floods.
RTÜK chairman Ebubekir Şahin released the warning on Twitter, asking all media outlets broadcasting from the flood-hit areas to “act within the framework of ethical values of the press, to cover accurate news and to avoid disinformation.”
The watchdog earlier this week imposed fines on six TV stations, including Fox TV, Habertürk and Halk TV, because of the way they covered wildfires that started on the country’s southern and western coasts on July 28 and were brought under control on Thursday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was roundly condemned on social media for tossing tea bags to locals while visiting one of the fire-ravaged areas at the end of July, visited Bozkurt on Friday.
Erdoğan’s speech in the district was criticized by many for resembling those he made during his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s rallies.
“He [Erdoğan] held a rally in the courtyard of the mosque [in Bozkurt]. … He did politics. One can’t talk about politics on a day like this. … While he was speaking to people who were affected by the flood, Mr. Erdoğan mentioned how successful he was. For God’s sake… There are still missing people [in Bozkurt]. … Have you no respect?” CHP vice chair Ali Öztunç said Friday, addressing Erdoğan.