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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Turks Pull Together in Face of Tragedy




ADAPAZARI, Turkey - While this week's mammoth earthquake has left much of Turkey in ruins, it also seems to have brought a nation together.


At the heart of the destruction caused by Tuesday's quake, whole neighborhoods are flattened, tall buildings are buckled and teetering. Bodies are buried under mounds of rubble, while relatives stand helplessly on sweltering sidewalks.


But neighbors have also banded together: Residents pitch in to move debris to extract the dead for a decent burial. Convoys of farmers on tractors pull water tanks. Businessmen have closed shops or factories to deliver food paid for out of their own pockets. Entire villages bake bread to feed their suffering neighbors.


The earthquake was centered in western Turkey, but it seems to have shaken the entire country.


People have been glued to around-the-clock television coverage, newspapers are filled with almost nothing else, and Turks are taking it upon themselves to offer help that their overwhelmed and much criticized government has failed to give.


"We all felt the quake in our hearts,'' said Hasan Pasa, who donated trucks from his transport company to deliver blankets, plastic sheeting and home-baked bread to Adapazari on Thursday.


"Our houses didn't collapse. They are still standing. But we have to help the people who suffered," said Pasa.


Spontaneous outbursts of generosity could be seen everywhere in the town of 60,000 people, about 175 kilometers southeast of Istanbul.


A 32-year-old shopkeeper from Konya loaded a small truck with staples from his shelves and drove 11 hours to hand them out.


Residents lined up patiently for plastic sacks of bread, rice, pasta, cheese, tea and cooking oil.


"I watched the TV and heard the news and felt it was my duty as a human being and as a Moslem to help,'' said the man, who only gave his first name, Ibrahim.


More than 10,000 people died in the quake - at least 2,800 of them in Adapazari, where entire blocks of three and four-story homes simply caved in. A ruin stood next to a more solidly built neighbor, where not even the pots of geraniums on the ledges were bothered.


Streets are cracked, cobblestone sidewalks crumpled. Shaune Sarrell, a British firefighter from Leicestershire, who has been doing rescue work for more than seven years, says he has never seen destruction on such a grand scale.


"This is horrendous,'' he said, surveying the moonscape around him.


His team was sent to the town Thursday and immediately set to work combing through rubble for possible survivors.


Other rescue crews have been rare in the town since the quake - a source of anger among the townspeople.


"It's all people helping each other,'' said Necla Irmak, a deputy bank manager in the town. "There is no state anywhere.''


She said neighbors helped pull a colleague's son from a flattened apartment block Thursday and took him for burial. But his uncle and cousin are still trapped.


"We can see the feet and arms, but we cannot get them out,'' she said.


Some people are starting to worry about health risks to the living, camped as they are in makeshift shelters next to their homes.


"The corpses under the rubble are starting to smell and could cause an epidemic,'' said Murat Uzuzmcu, 26, who lost his house and shoemaking business but "thanks be to God'' no family members.


"We're thinking of leaving,'' he said.