Izmit and New Orleans

Ali Günertem
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The hurricane that struck the gulf coasts of New Orleans and Mississippi has left the same deep marks as the August 17, 1999 earthquake in Izmit. There is a big difference between these two disasters. The earthquake destroyed a big geographic area with a force of 7.4 Richter in the middle of the night.
On the other hand, the authorities warned the people living in communities along the gulf 4 days before hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico at the end of August. They wanted to evacuate the region. Katrina hit at the day and time that was predicted and left an unrecognizable gulf coast behind. The earthquake in Izmit cost 24.5 billion dollars. According to the official records, 18 thousand 243 people died and 48 thousand people were wounded. The predicted toll of the hurricane is 1000 lives. Evacuating the city on time helped decrease the death toll.

There are not many things to do to stop the natural disasters. But every government has an emergency plan after one. We need to point out one resemblance between the two catastrophes. After the 1999 Izmit earthquake, the local government lost control, mostly because of the enormity of the disaster and the shock, and let the city endure a big chaos. Thousands of people who survived the earthquake died because of the lack of timely help after it happened. After the caliber of the disaster was understood, the army was set in motion by Ankara, and the Turkish army took control of the situation even if it was late. The chaos was stopped, security was established and the citizens who succeeded in surviving three to five days under the wreckage were rescued. Every nation’s army is ready to manage these kinds of natural disasters and has the technology and equipment to do it. The civilian institutes and local governments may not be able to manage the situation both physically and spiritually as fast and as well as the army in the first three days after a catastrophe. In this situation the army would wait for the call of the civilian government to help, as should happen in every democratic country.

After refreshing your memories of the earthquake and the criticism directed at Ankara, let’s take a look at what happened after the Katrina disaster. There is no way to understand how a big failure like this can take place in a country which has the best opportunities.
The biggest mistake made after the hurricane was to send the recruits to the region instead of the active military forces waiting and ready, since neither the experience nor the equipment of the enlistees were enough to get everything under control. The die was cast, and images, that no one in today’s U.S.A. would imagine happening, were broadcast within the three days following the catastrophe. People who survived Katrina were not able to survive the bureaucracy afterwards.

Vice-President Bulent Ecevit, visiting U.S.A. in September 1999, after the Izmit earthquake, could not get any financial aid. While the subject was carried in the headlines of The New York Times as “Turkey goes home empty handed. No financial aid for earthquake,” an American aid crew of 258 people tried to ease our pain.

But after Katrina, Minister of State Mehmet Aydin, representing the Turkish Red Crescent, gave a check of $1.5 million to the American Red Cross Vice-President Rosemary W. Mackey. Even this small gesture warmed up the relationship between the U.S.A. and Turkey, which is a little bit cold these days. Even though disasters bring the people of different countries together, there is a lesson that the governments should learn from these experiences: Send your soldiers who are ready to protect their country under any circumstances to the disaster region, without waiting, right after it happens. 

(August 2005, 18th Issue)
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07
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