Turkey’s Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu, cried during a live broadcast on CNN Turk on Friday and said that the Turkish authorities had made preparations for an earthquake in Istanbul instead of the 11 provinces hit by the 6 February earthquakes.
The minister said Turkey have stepped up efforts for earthquake preparations in the last 3-4 years, when answering the questions of journalist Ahmet Hakan.
“Our preparations were for an earthquake in Istanbul. But the fault line in Kahramanmaraş was among the priority areas for us,” Soylu said, mentioning the epicentre of the earthquake that hit 11 provinces in the country’s south and have cost the lives of 40,642 people according to the latest update on Saturday.
The fact that airports were closed down, mobile phones did not work and the sub-zero temperatures in the disaster region in the aftermath of the earthquake all hampered the ability to reach out to citizens, Soylu admitted when responding to criticisms over the government’s failure in organising disaster relief efforts. The minister also added that the magnitude of the twin earthquakes and their impact also affected relief work.
Soylu became emotional and started shedding tears during the live broadcast.
“This is a result of our sorrow. We believe it came from Allah. We are Muslims,” he said. “However, we are sometimes affected from this picture as human beings,” he added.
“Of course,” Soylu said in response to Hakan asking him whether all decisions have been made according to the instructions of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Some in Turkey interpreted Soylu’s comments as an effort to shift the blame in case the failure of the government can be legally investigated in the future.
However, the minister’s comments might be related to allegations that the measures he took in the first hours of the disaster were later blocked by Erdoğan, who was furious with Soylu for taking initiative.
But Soylu’s statement that the authorities were prepared for a high-magnitude earthquake in Istanbul rather than potential ones that could hit other regions created a more widespread reaction.
“We apologise for dying in the wrong earthquake,” wrote Barış Atay, a lawmaker of Turkey Workers’ Party (TİP) elected from the earthquake hit Hatay province, in response to Soylu.
Famous Turkish comics magazine LeMan used a depiction of Soylu reading a book on “Istanbul earthquake” on its front page to make fun of his comments.
The Interior Minister’s statement that authorities have pooled efforts for an earthquake in Istanbul is not convincing for many, as Turkey’s largest and most populated province awaits a huge death toll in case of a high-magnitude earthquake due to weakly-structured buildings and the lack of gathering areas for possible survivors.
According to an estimation made by the Istanbul metropolitan municipality, 91,000 people will be heavily damaged in the province in the event of a 7.5 magnitude earthquake.
People living in around 250,000 buildings will be harmed in that scenario, while the financial cost of the potential earthquake is estimated as $40 billion.
A minimum 500,000 people are at risk of dying in case a strong tremor hits the province, according to prominent earthquake expert Professor Naci Görür.