Search-and-rescue experts from Fairfax County headed to Turkey yesterday as part of a package of U.S. aid for earthquake victims, while President Clinton offered thoughts and prayers to the Turkish people.
"Turkey has been our friend and ally for a long time now," Clinton said at the White House. "We must stand with them and do whatever we can to help them get through this terrible crisis."
The 70-member Fairfax search-and-rescue team departed from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware yesterday afternoon and is expected to arrive in Istanbul this morning. Last August, the Fairfax team helped dig bombing victims out of the rubble of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Led by Steve Caitlin, a disaster relief specialist from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the team is expected to establish a base of operations in the devastated city of Izmit, near the epicenter of the quake that left more than 2,100 people dead, 13,000 injured and thousands more missing. The team is accompanied by five specially trained dogs, three vehicles and more than 56,000 pounds of equipment.
A separate eight-member squad -- composed of four people from Fairfax, two from the Miami-Dade (Fla.) search-and-rescue team and two USAID staffers -- will be deployed to assist U.N. relief efforts.
USAID also said it had made an initial donation of $25,000 to the Turkish Red Crescent Society and would send a liaison officer to coordinate assistance from U.S. troops based in Turkey.
At the time of the earthquake, Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Turkey to attend military meetings in Ankara. He immediately offered assistance from U.S. bases in the region, including helicopters, tents and blankets.
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson also was in Turkey for talks on Caspian Sea oil and gas projects. He was asleep at a hotel in Istanbul, about 50 miles from the epicenter, when the earthquake struck at about 3 a.m. local time.
There were "45 seconds worth of very violent shaking in our hotel room," Richardson said. "It was very violent shaking, and we were able to observe the darkness of the earthquake, people streaming into the streets, lights going out in Istanbul."
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan offered condolences and said the U.N. would "extend all forms of assistance within its means in the relief and rehabilitation efforts." In a written statement, he also praised "the promptness with which the government of Turkey has mobilized initial humanitarian aid" and said it had "helped to mitigate the initial level of suffering."
The Turkish government said it would be able to shelter and feed thousands of people left homeless by the earthquake. But it issued an international appeal for specialist teams with sniffer dogs to help locate those still trapped under rubble.
Marc Grossman, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, said there were no reports of American casualties. Some 37 U.S. citizens are registered as living in the Izmit area, and 4,000 are registered in Istanbul, but those figures do not include Americans traveling as tourists or on business.
The following aid agencies are accepting contributions to assist victims of the earthquake in Turkey. They are members of InterAction, a coalition of relief, development and refugee assistance agencies:
Adventist Development and Relief Agency: 1-800-424-2372
American Jewish World Service: 1-800-889-7146
American Red Cross International Response Fund: 1-800-HELP-NOW; Spanish: 1-800-257-7575
Brother's Brother Foundation: 412-321-3160
Catholic Relief Services: 1-800-736-3467
Church World Service: 1-800-297-1516, ext. 222
Direct Relief International: 1-800-676-1638
Food for the Hungry International: 1-800-2-HUNGER
Lutheran World Relief: 1-800-LWR-LWR2
MAP International: 1-800-225-8550
Operation USA: 1-800-678-7255
United Methodist Committee on Relief: 1-800-554-8583
World Relief: 1-800-535-5433