Turkish Quake Toll Rises; U.S. Sends Hospital Ships

July 7, 2008 - 7:07 PM

(CNSNews.com) - U.S. search and rescue teams pulled four people alive from collapsed buildings in Izmit, Turkey, in the aftermath of an earthquake that has claimed over 10,000 dead and 45,000 injured. But the chances of survival for additional tens of thousands of people buried under the rubble are slim, the Turkish government said.

Approximately 2 million people are now camped outdoors in Istanbul and surrounding cities for fear of aftershocks and falling buildings, officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development told CNSNews.com. Burst sewage lines and large numbers of homeless people living on garbage-strewn streets without toilets or fresh water is compounding the risk of cholera outbreaks, they said.

Despite the assistance of over 1,000 professional rescue workers, many victims are expected to die of their injuries, and from exposure and thirst in daytime temperatures of 100 degrees Farenheit. The storage, identification and burial of the victims is also becoming a problem. Makeshift morgues in skating rinks, fishermen's warehouses and refrigerated trucks are filled to capacity.

Responding to requests from Turkish authorities, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has ordered to the region three Air National Guard C-130 planes equipped with modular airborne fire fighting systems, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon told reporters Thursday.

Another aircraft is flying out with support equipment and personnel, including 22,000 pounds of fire retardant. These aircraft will arrive in Turkey Saturday, Bacon said.

The Pentagon is also providing 3,000 gallons of fire fighting foam from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.

The 6th Fleet has sent three hospital ships, including the Kearsarge, to the region. They will arrive off the coast of Turkey on Saturday night. Equipped with operating facilities and a large number of beds, the three-ship group will provide 123 medical personnel, including eight doctors, to the relief effort, Bacon said.

The Kearsarge has 22 helicopters to ferry people in need of medical assistance to and from the hospital ships.

The U.S. European Command has sent a 22-person Navy crisis response team, which includes a three-member medical assessment team, to the area. This unit has a flight surgeon, a veterinarian and a general practitioner to survey what the medical needs are, Bacon said.

"Right now we're concentrating primarily on searching for and caring for survivors, but when that phase of the operation is over, obviously we'll have to concentrate on providing shelter and food," Bacon said.

"Our embassy in Turkey has requested 30,000 tents, and the military is in the process of working to find those tents," he added.

One possible source of tents is Kosovo, Bacon said. Refugees who received U.S.-supplied tents in Macedonia and Albania during the Kosovo conflict were allowed to take the tents with them to Kosovo for shelter while they were rebuilding their houses. Now some of the tents may be available for Turkish quake survivors.

The total monetary aid by the United States Agency for International Development and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is $2,985,000.

Turkish authorities have requested thousands of additional body bags, heavy gloves and masks for clearing rubble, parabolic microphones, blankets, medicine and first-aid material, soup kitchens and food, water and water purification plants.