Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has admitted to “shortcomings” as it emerged his government restricted Twitter access amid growing anger over the state’s response to the massive earthquake earlier this week, which is now known to have killed more than 11,000 people.
Two days after the quake hit Turkey’s Gaziantep province near the Syrian border, rescuers are racing against the clock through freezing conditions in a frantic scramble to pull survivors from the debris. As questions emerge over the country’s preparedness, the latest estimates from the World Health Organization said up to 23 million people could be affected by the disaster.
Huge piles of rubble and wreckage litter streets in Gaziantep where residential buildings and properties once stood. As the desperate search for survivors continues, emergency responders have periodically called for silence from those in the immediate vicinity and for heavy machinery to briefly still while rescuers check for signs of life from trapped residents.
The official response has seen Erdogan declare a state of emergency for the next three months in 10 provinces. The country’s disaster management agency has deployed search and rescue teams to badly-hit areas and the health minister announced field hospitals had been set up.
Speaking as he visited several earthquake disaster zones Wednesday, Erdogan vowed to take “every necessary step” and unite the state and nation so that “we will not leave any citizen unattended.”
Earlier in the day, the president had acknowledged public concern over the government’s response, admitting the state initially “had some problems” at airports and on roads, but insisting the situation was now “under control.”
Erdogan also angrily pushed back against “some dishonest people” for “falsely slandering” his government’s quake response, saying the moment called for unity and that “in such a period, I cannot tolerate the viciously negative campaigns for the sake of simple political interests.”
He continued: “No doubt our job was not easy. The difficulty of weather conditions added to the magnitude and prevalence of the destruction caused by this earthquake, which was felt in an area of 500 kilometers in which approximately 13.5 million people live. Despite this, we mobilized all the resources of the state and the nation and directed them to the disaster area.”
“Of course there are shortcomings. The conditions are obvious. It is not possible to be prepared for such a disaster. We will not leave any of our citizens uncared for.”
Erdogan’s remarks come amid growing frustration from the public after reports emerged of entire towns in the country’s north flattened by the powerful tremblors. Amid the discontent, access to Twitter was restricted in Turkey.
Network monitoring firm NetBlocks said Wednesday that traffic filtering had been applied at the internet service provider level that was preventing Twitter users from reaching the social media site. The report coincided with user claims that Twitter was inaccessible in the country.
“Widespread reports of Twitter being throttled in Turkey,” tweeted Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at Columbia University who was born in Istanbul and a longtime scholar of large-scale social media usage. Tufekci added that some Twitter users had been expressing “increasing dissatisfaction” with Turkey’s response effort.