Disastrous flood serves as wake up call for officials

The İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality's Disaster Coordination Center (AKOM) declared a red alert on Friday afternoon based on warnings issued by the State Meteorology Department that more heavy rain was expected that night, following flooding in the city's northwestern region, particularly in the İkitelli area and on the Basın Ekspres highway, on Wednesday killed 31 people.
A total of 2,220 vehicles and 6,370 police officers were deployed to block off roads near potentially dangerous areas on both the European and the Anatolian sides of the city, a statement from AKOM announced yesterday. Dozens of teams from the fire department and the Road Maintenance Directorate -- a total of 1225 people -- were working to clear the damage left by Wednesday's flood. There were also paramedics and teams of health service professionals in Çatalca, another area hit severely by Wednesday's flood. Area residents were given dinner, tea, tents and blankets as part of relief efforts.
Teams with cranes worked to clear overturned and nearly destroyed vehicles at a truck garage in İkitelli, where 13 people drowned in the raging waters on Wednesday. Flood waters swept vehicles close to the path of a nearby stream. The municipality also carried out work in the Başakşehir area to give residential areas access to the TEM highway, which has been blocked since Wednesday.
Yesterday, employees working at public agencies in İstanbul were let out early to minimize the risk of any problems during their commute home.
Meanwhile, visiting the flooded areas in İstanbul by helicopter, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday that efforts to demolish settlements near watercourses would start soon. Illegal construction on and near watercourses blocking the flow of water was blamed for the flooding on Wednesday.
Stating that they will find a lasting solution while at the same time maintaining their efforts to deal with the current disaster, the prime minister said settlements near watercourses will be demolished, as there is no other solution. “As I said before, the river finds its bed, and its revenge is harsh. Now, we are paying the price for it,” Erdoğan said, adding: “There is the same problem everywhere we visited. Watercourses have been seriously changed. What was experienced with the Ayamama and Papaz streams is clear, and there is the same problem as well.” Highlighting that political arguments must not arise from the disaster, Erdoğan continued: “I do not find this appropriate. It is a mistaken approach. Those making political arguments out of the disaster should look in the mirror and look at what has been done in the places they worked.”
Efforts to repair damage caused by flash floods that struck İstanbul continued on Friday, with cranes lifting damaged vehicles out of flooded areas. As İstanbul expected another flood due to heavy rain on Friday night, officials finally began taking measures to ensure public safety late Friday afternoon, in addition to announcing long-term plans to demolish settlements near watercourses, after slow intervention during a recent flood and years of negligence of uncontrolled urban development.

İstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş also made a statement yesterday, describing the measures taken by AKOM. “We hope we will never go through this again,” Topbaş said.
He said he did not want to look for a culprit in the 31 deaths that took place on Wednesday. “As someone who is at the helm, we are also responsible, as those before us and as those after us will be. Everyone who has ever been in city administration has to engage in this self-criticism.”
He recalled that he met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Prime Ministry's İstanbul Office in Dolmabahçe on Thursday. He repeated the prime minister's statement that settlements near and on watercourses would be expropriated and then demolished.
“We expect to see the support of the media and the judiciary because many expropriation processes are blocked by stays issued by courts. The best way to overcome this problem is to make rapid decisions,” he said.
Topbaş vowed to destroy every single building along the Ayamama Stream, one of the most dangerous streams in the city.
100 detained for looting

Meanwhile, over a hundred people have been detained on charges of looting. One person was arrested, while 103 others were released by the courts to which they had been referred. Some of the objects taken by looters were returned to their owners.
12 September 2009, Saturday