11/02/2020, 13.35
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Aegean earthquake: Caritas Turkey together with Muslims in the emergency

Caritas Turkey president Bishop Paolo Bizetti stresses that the Christian charity “took immediate action” to help “people in need”. Working with Turkish authorities is an example of solidarity embodied by the encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’. For the prelate, without solidarity, “tragedies become impossible to manage". Izmir’s cathedral and the Church of St Polycarp suffered damage.

Izmir (AsiaNews) – Caritas Izmir "took immediate action" to deal with the emergency, helping dozens of people "in need”, working together with Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD[*]), which intervened promptly, said Bishop Paolo Bizetti, apostolic vicar to Anatolia and president of Caritas Turkey.

Speaking to AsiaNews three days after a strong earthquake in the Aegean hit Turkey and Greece, the prelate explained that the emergency situation highlights the “value of the words of Pope Francis in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti. Without solidarity, tragedies become impossible to manage, and this one offers an opportunity for fraternity between different peoples and faiths” at a time of international tensions.

Meanwhile, the earth continues to tremble in the area with over 1,120 aftershocks – some reaching 4 magnitude – after Friday’s main earthquake. The latest death toll includes at least 79 people in Izmir and two young people on the Greek island of Samos.

According to AFAD, about a thousand people have been injured, with 219 still in hospital for medical treatment. Rescuers have put up more than 1,800 tents so far, whilst another 2,000 should be added in the next few hours.

For their part, rescue workers volunteers continue to dig through the rubble, looking for survivors. Two people, a 14-year-old girl (İdil Şirin) and an elderly man of 70 (Ahmet Çitim), were pulled out alive from the ruins of their homes destroyed by the quake, sparking joy and strong feelings.

So far, at least 105 people have been brought out alive. Whilst digging continues, as a time goes by, hope to finding survivors in Izmir, the most affected area in Turkey, is fading fast.

Over the weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed the nation, saying that the government is "determined to heal the wounds of our brothers and sisters" affected by the earthquake, helping them and providing shelter "before the cold and rain begin".

Eight people are currently in hospital in intensive care, due to injuries caused by collapsed buildings.

Turkey is in a geographically seismic area with various fault lines running through its landmass. It is therefore no stranger to devastating earthquakes like the one in 1999 that killed 18,000 people or the most recent one in Anatolia last January.

“No Christians have been reported among the dead or injured,” Bishop Bizetti said, “but Izmir cathedral and the Church of St Polycarp suffered serious damage.”

Given the situation, “the first thing we are doing is helping the needy. We have already provided basic necessities. Now we are trying to monitor the situation, to meet the needs of those who risk being overlooked by rescuers. However, we do not have yet a complete picture.”

For the prelate, the priority is "to assist people, without making distinctions between Christians and Muslims, working with AFAD, which intervened promptly,” said the bishop.

“For now, rescue operations are moving well and there is full cooperation, even if we move more for Christians because we know them better and know how to reach them,” he added.

“The ‘Muhtar’ or borough chief, plays an important role because of his extensive contacts with residents and ability to provide valuable information on local needs and requirements.”

However, quake damage comes on top of an already difficult situation due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent health emergency, but at present "the number of deaths is limited”.

“I believe we will be able to respond effectively" to needs and requirements. “As Caritas Turkey, we are in contact with Caritas Internationalis which has already starting to provide aid.

“The situation remains tricky but the event is limited and I believe that we will be able to intervene effectively, first with people and then with restoring structures, such as homes and places of worship.”

[*] Afet ve Acil Durum Yönetimi Başkanlığı.

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