Regional officials pleaded for medical assistance and more body bags Tuesday as they tried to care for a growing number of sick people among the tens of thousands left homeless by last week's earthquake. The government's official death toll rose to nearly 18,000, but early today there were reports that the actual number of confirmed deaths was significantly lower, perhaps about 12,500.
Two days of cool evening temperatures and rain in the earthquake zone of northwestern Turkey left much of the area wet and muddy as search teams continued to extract bodies from the rubble and survivors sought shelter in the open. Although the government has started to build dozens of tent cities, most remain uncompleted and unoccupied, including one being constructed by army troops on the outskirts of this resort town on the Sea of Marmara.
More than 150 residents died here as buildings collapsed around them, and--as in many towns and villages--people flocked to city hall Tuesday to read lists of survivors' names posted on windows. But the gloom lightened slightly when electricity and limited water service were restored for the first time in the seven days since the quake, paralleling restoration of these services in the heavily damaged cities of Golcuk and Yalova.
The bulldozing of damaged or collapsed buildings has accelerated in many cities, with workers leaving only a thin layer of white concrete dust where mountains of rubble--containing the household possessions of thousands of people--had been. The process of cleaning up has now supplanted virtually all efforts to find more survivors as hopes of finding any dwindled. Rescue teams from Germany, France and Italy joined others in leaving the country with the government's encouragement.
"International search and rescue operations are over," said Sergio Piazzi of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva, which had helped coordinate the deployment of more than 3,000 foreign rescuers in more than two dozen teams in the first few days after the quake. The U.N. office in Istanbul posted a long list of urgently needed items, including tents, generators, portable toilets, lime, underwear, soap, socks, shoes, diapers, sheets, towels, surgical equipment, garbage bags and body bags.
Although Health Minister Osman Durmus has declared that the country does not need foreign medical assistance, Karamursel--a town of 25,000--"needs medicine for common diseases, every type of medicine, because the rescue activities are over," said Yuksel Turkozu, 37, the sole civil emergency officer here. "The need is growing because people are staying outside." Officials have estimated that the number of injured throughout Turkey exceeds 42,000.
Turkozu said there is a shortage of vaccines against tetanus and typhoid, which the government fears might cause more suffering among quake survivors. The soldiers who are setting up tents and who will provide security for those living in them were being vaccinated Tuesday at a medical tent on a soccer field overlooking the sea.
Meanwhile, there was confusion about the official death toll. The government on Tuesday said the death toll rose to 17,997 as more bodies were removed from the wreckage. But early today, it revised that figure downward nearly 5,500 to 12,514, saying the confirmed number of deaths in the town of Izmit were much fewer than previously announced, the Associated Press reported.