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Former Turkish justice minister criticizes government response to earthquakes

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A former Turkish justice minister who lost 16 of his relatives in earthquakes that struck Turkey on Feb. 6 has criticized the Turkish government’s response to the disaster, saying officials failed to organize rescue efforts and that relief assistance was lacking.

Eleven provinces in the country’s south and southeast were hit by two powerful earthquakes, with magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.5, on Feb. 6, which were followed by numerous aftershocks, leading to the death of more than 42,000 people in Turkey and wreaking devastation in the region as well as in northwest Syria.

Former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, who parted ways with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and joined the opposition Democracy and Progress (Deva) Party in 2020, said in a broadcast on the KARAR TV YouTube channel that the authorities were poorly prepared and poorly organized in their response to the earthquakes.

Between 2002 and 2014 Ergin served as a lawmaker for Turkey’s Hatay province. His hometown of Antakya in Hatay is one of the hardest hit places in the quake-stricken region.

“Only one of my relatives came out of the rubble alive. At the end of the eighth day, we pulled everyone out, but no one was alive. The rescue operation was not possible until the fourth day as there was no electricity or fuel,” Ergin said adding that on the seventh day as he left the city, there was still a fuel shortage.

“There was no phone service for six days,” Ergin said and accused the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) of mismanaging the situation.

“Rescue teams came, AFAD couldn’t organize them,” Ergin said.

The former minister criticized the government’s failure to make adequate preparations before the earthquake, despite ruling a quake-prone country, and called on the government to take responsibility for its mistakes, stressing that these issues must be addressed to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

“An earthquake is an event beyond human will. It is fate, we can’t prevent it, ” Ergin said and added, “It is not fate that search and rescue operations after the disaster are inadequate, that logistical needs are not met and that we have not made preparations. These are all our shortcomings and our negligence. If we pretend that this is all normal, then, unfortunately, we are covering it up.”

The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is being harshly criticized for what many view as a slow response to Turkey’s biggest earthquake in nearly a century.

The government is mainly accused of failing to mobilize enough people for relief efforts and a lack of coordination among the teams, which resulted in civilians in some regions trying to pull their loved ones from under the rubble themselves and finding them frozen to death although they sustained no critical injuries in the collapse.

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