Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan hits back at criticism of earthquake readiness as death toll reaches 35

Sara Elizabeth Williams
Rescue workers search the site of a collapsed building in Elazig following the January 24 earthquake - REUTERS

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday denied that the country was under-prepared for earthquakes as the death toll from a tremor that hit the country’s east climbed to at least 35. 

“Do not listen to rumours, do not listen to anyone’s negative, contrary propaganda, and know that we are your servants,” Mr Erdogan said on Saturday after attending the funeral of a mother and son who were killed in Friday’s 6.8 magnitude earthquake 

His comments followed the announcement of a criminal investigation into “provocative” social media posts and reports that broadcasting authorities were reviewing media coverage of the quake. 

Some locals accused officials of under-reporting the number of people trapped inside buildings, as hopes faded that the missing might be found alive.

The earthquake’s epicentre was in the town of Sivrice, in Turkey’s eastern Elazig Province, a picturesque area atop the Eastern Anatolian Fault.

Locals here often choose one-story prefabricated housing in anticipation of tremors. Much of the damage appears to affect high-density multi-storey housing in urban areas. 

By Sunday afternoon, experts had clocked 714 aftershocks.

The Turkish government’s disaster and emergency agency, AFAD, said close to 80 buildings collapsed and another 645 were heavily damaged across two provinces.

Turkey’s Interior Ministry said at least 15,000 people are sleeping in gymnasiums and schools, and more than 5,000 tents have been set up for others made homeless by the quake.   

Mr Erdogan promised that his government “will not leave anyone in the open.”