Governor in earthquake zone says death toll could be 5 times higher than official figure

Although Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (AFAD) put the death toll of powerful earthquakes that hit Turkey earlier this month at more than 41,000 on Monday, a governor appointed to the earthquake zone has said the actual figure could be as much as five times higher than the official number, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Cumhuriyet daily.

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck near the Turkish city of Gaziantep – home to around 2 million people and on the border with Syria – as people were sleeping on February 6 was followed by dozens of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue efforts the same day.

AFAD Chairman Yunus Sezer said a total of 41,156 people had been killed in the Feb. 6 earthquakes as of Monday as the country has almost finished search and rescue efforts for survivors of the massive disaster.

Yet, according to Osman Bilgin, the governor of the southeastern province of Şırnak who was recently appointed to the 11-province earthquake zone to coordinate relief efforts, the death toll is much worse than the official figures announced.

“It is three to four times or even five times worse,” Bilgin told earthquake victims on Sunday in Gaziantep’s Nurdağı district, one of hardest-hit areas from the earthquakes.

He said some cities will have to be completely demolished and reconstructed, adding that the first Feb. 6 earthquake is the deadliest temblor Turkey has experienced in its modern history.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is accused of manipulating the death toll of the earthquakes to mask the scale of the disaster amid growing criticism due to what many say was a delayed and ineffective response to the tragedy.

Experts fear that the death toll will rise further as the work to remove the rubble of flattened buildings continues. Geologist Professor Övgün Ahmet Ercan estimated on Feb. 7 that the number of people under rubble was 184,000 and that only one out of every 25 people under rubble had been rescued.

More than 17, 000 people died when a magnitude 7.4 earthquake hit Turkey’s Marmara region in 1999.

Before the Feb. 6 earthquake, another one, magnitude 7.8., which hit the eastern province of Erzincan in 1939 was the deadliest temblor in Turkey’s modern history, leading to the death of more than 33,000 people.

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