The Norwegian Defense Department sent one of its large C-130J Hercules transport planes to Turkey on Saturday, loaded with supplies and ready to help with the evacuation of injured earthquake victims. The goal is provide more emergency aid as the death toll from the quake that also hit Syria keeps rising.
“The destruction in Turkey is enormous and the situation is critical,” said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre Saturday afternoon. “Turkey has asked for international help and support. It’s important that we contribute what we can in this extremely difficult situation.”
The C-130 left Oslo with a crew on board that includes both flight operations specialists with experience from earlier disasters and health care personnel. Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram said the aircraft can be used for both transport of emergency supplies and medical evacuations, since Turkish hospitals were also damaged or destroyed in the quake and others are overloaded.
Norway has already sent emergency aid to both Turkey and Syria, most of it through the UN and humanitarian organizations including the Red Cross. The Norwegian government has initially contributed NOK 150 million (USD 15 million) and more aid is likely as the need for help soars. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless by the worst quake in decades, and large cities have been left without water, power and access to food. Kirkens Nødhjelp (Norwegian Church Aid), Norwegian People’s Aid (Norsk Folkehjelp) and the refugee aid organization Flyktninghjelpen are among those involved in the aid effort.
“This is a huge tragedy,” Støre told newspaper VG. “People have lost everything and it makes a deep impression to see the photos of the suffering.” Turkey is one of Norway’s NATO allies and has experienced devastating earthquakes in the past, but Støre noted that this one is so catastrophic that it’s difficult to grasp the extent of it.
Several Norwegian experts on crisis coordination are already in Turkey, where officials have been criticized for a lack of sufficient emergency response. The area is also rife with political conflict, with Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt calling it “a desperate situation.” She said she was in regular contact with Norway’s embassies in the region. A seven-day period of official mourning was to end on Sunday.
Government officials have reportedly tried to crack down on their critics. News bureau DHA reported that officials also have arrested around a dozen people connected to construction companies alleged to have violated regulations meant to make buildings more able to withstand earthquakes. Thousands of buildings collapsed and more arrests were expected.
As Norwegian aid workers flew to Turkey, meanwhile, German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that German and Austrian emergency crews were being pulled out of some quake-hit areas because of security concerns. There were reports of “increased aggression” between various groups, and that shots were fired.
News bureau AFP reported that nearly 22,000 people have been confirmed dead in Turkey and just over 3,500 in Syria. Those numbers are expected to rise.