Minister: Turkeyrejected foreign rescue teams to test its own capacity
The Turkish government had not readily accepted search-and-rescue teams from foreign countries in the wake of a magnitude 7.2 quake in the eastern province of Van because it wanted to test its own capacity to respond to such a disaster, a government minister has said. Turkey initially declined offers of aid from other countries, saying it could handle the disaster alone, but Ankara accepted many offers of help two days after the quake when it became apparent that quake victims were in need of immediate shelter as winter closes in. Countries, including Israel and neighboring Armenia, then sent tents and prefabricated houses to help victims. The United States also said on Friday it would supply tents, containers and prefabricated housing. "We thank the international community. Countries such as Iran and Azerbaijan especially have displayed enormous sensitivity," Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said at a press conference on Saturday in Van, referring to the only two countries that dispatched search-and-rescue teams. Atalay said the government has a list of countries that immediately made offers of help. "Of course, offers of search-and-rescue teams were kept on hold so that we could see our own potential," Atalay said. Iran and Azerbaijan, on the other hand, acted on their own and sent their rescue teams. "Since we had sufficient search-and-rescue teams, we did not ask for foreign teams. But other countries are welcome to send tents, prefabricated houses and blankets," he said. On Thursday, the Azerbaijani team said it pulled 10 people out alive from beneath the rubble. As search-and-rescue efforts came to an end, shelter remains the main problem for survivors of the quake. Overseeing the relief efforts, Atalay said 35,000 tents had been handed out so far -- about 3,500 of which were sent by other countries -- and there was no shortage. But people have complained that distribution was chaotic, tents were looted, and some were sold by profiteers on the black market. "From now on we are determining the need for tents according to our nightly visits and not according to the people's demands," Atalay said.