Economy Shattered by Quake
- By Louis Meixler
- Aug. 24 1999 00:00
IZMIT, Turkey -- The car-repair shop where Cihan Cakiroglu worked is twisted wreckage, his boss is dead, and the August paycheck that his now homeless family needs will never come.
At the nearby Goodyear tire plant, the blue steel walls still stand, but most of the employees are too busy searching for relatives or shelter for their families to show up for work.
Turks nationwide are struggling to recover from the massive, 7.4-magnitude earthquake that struck the country's industrial heartland early Tuesday. The social and economic costs appear to be staggering.
Thousands of homeless people like Cakiroglu are demanding that the government help them buy new homes and furniture and find them new jobs.
Experts say each day remaining factories like the Goodyear plant remain idle leads to a loss of $300 million.
The government, already struggling to cut back a federal budget deficit, is strapped for the cash needed to repair basic infrastructure, including roads, bridges and electrical lines. And the area hit provides almost half the tax revenue, meaning the government will have even less income to count on.
The cost to the economy could top $20 billion - 10 percent of the country's gross national product and enough to drag the country back into recession, experts say.
Government spokesman Sukru Sina Gurel said the economic damage to the country could "be beyond what any tragic event in the history of Turkey has caused.''
Bulent Akgerman, head of the Aegean Young Businessmen Association, has suggested a six-day work week to overcome the impact of the quake.
Other industrialists are demanding aid from the international community, which has already provided $500 million in loans and grants.
"Hopefully, we will be able to deal with it smoothly if we receive support from international organizations,'' said Tevfik Aksoy, chief economist of Istanbul's Bank Ekspres. "I seriously doubt that Turkey will be left alone on this one.''
He also pointed out that the crucial cement, automobile and tire factories that make western Turkey so important to the economy have been left largely undamaged.
They are expected to reopen soon, which will no doubt help ease the strain of the earthquake damage.
The Goodyear plant in Izmit, for example, was built with steel walls and survived the earthquake, unlike many local homes and buildings made of cheap cement, engineering manager Mehmet Turkel said.
Some equipment was damaged, he said, but the plant should be able to reopen quickly, and its 500 employees should return to work.
"If you come here in a week, you'll see this plant running,'' he said. "People want it to happen.'' But the plant will wait a few days more during for the search for survivors and possessions to end. Five of the plant's workers are believed to have been killed in the quake, and almost half have lost their homes.
Personnel manager Harun Savas said the plant is offering tea and sandwiches to workers who come in to help assess damage.
"We have to start a new life,'' said Savas, who pulled the bodies of five of his relatives from the wreckage of their homes and later helped bury them.
His house survived the earthquake, but his 12-year-old son, Cagdas, was too frightened to stay in Izmit and has gone with Savas' wife and daughter to live with relatives on the Black Sea coast.
"I think the major problem will be how to get people back to work,'' said Haluk Tukel, the secretary-general of TUSIAD, the country's leading organization of industrialists.
But for many people, there is no longer any work to speak of.
In a grassy lot in front of a 15-meter pile of rubble, Cakiroglu stood beside his new home - a brown blanket held up by a few sticks of wood. It is here that he sleeps with his wife and 3-year-old daughter.
"I'm willing to do anything, even sell pretzels on the street,'' Cakiroglu said.