Turks hold tearful vigils to mark quake anniversary

GOLCUK, Turkey - As a prayer leader chanted verses from Muslim scripture, people in this town began to weep Thursday in memory of the 17,000 people who died in Turkey a year ago in a massive earthquake.

''With God's mercy, we remember the martyrs,'' read a banner at one of the many memorial services in the Golcuk area, one of the hardest hit by the quake last Aug. 17.

As memorial ceremonies progressed, a moderate earthquake shook Kastamonu province, a reminder that most of northern Turkey sits on an active fault line. There were no reports of injuries from that quake, which had a preliminary magnitude of 4. Kastamonu is 375 miles east of Istanbul.

Last year's magnitude 7.4 quake destroyed 285,000 buildings in western Turkey.

In Golcuk, 70 miles east of Istanbul, about 800 people met in the central square at 3:02 a.m. Thursday, clapping their hands, honking car horns or blowing whistles to mark the moment when the quake struck. The crowd then observed a moment of silence followed by a prayer.

Many people in the crowd began weeping during readings from Islam's holy book, the Quran. Similar gatherings were held in cities throughout the area.

''We are here to remember,'' said Kemal Ozcan, a retired shopowner.

Ozcan was in his bedroom when the quake struck, bringing down his ceiling and trapping him, his wife and his son beneath the rubble. They spent almost four hours under the concrete before neighbors dug them out.

''We still can't escape the feelings of that night,'' Ozcan said. ''We can't believe we are alive.''

Shattered houses and factories still line the streets of Golcuk and other towns. Golcuk's boardwalk slid into the sea during the quake. The tops of street lamps and trees still poke through the water a few feet off shore.

Turkey's government was severely criticized after the earthquake for being slow and inefficient in dealing with the catastrophe.

It is a charge that government officials took pains to address Thursday.

After a special Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit read a detailed list of state donations and accomplishments, down to the number of electric heaters distributed to quake victims.

In Adapazari, a town near Golcuk that was almost completely destroyed during the quake, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer asked residents to ''please be a little more patient.''

''We want you to trust in the state,'' he said. ''The problem we have today is not what has been done, or the lack of it, but what can be done better from now on.''

Some 26,000 quake survivors still live in tent cities while another 150,000 live in prefabricated homes that are oppressively hot in summer.

The government has promised to build more than 20,000 permanent homes by the end of the year and has said that most of the tent cities will be closed before winter.

Many quake survivors are skeptical.

''Nothing has changed,'' said Metin Sagdic, who lost some 30 relatives in the quake. ''We see the same collapsed buildings one year later.''

The quake led to an outpouring of international sympathy for Turkey. Dozens of countries sent aid, including the United States, Israel, France, Germany and Greece, a traditional rival.

The sight of Greek aid workers rescuing Turks helped lead to a thawing of relations between the countries. A month later, when an earthquake shook Greece, Turkish rescue workers rushed to the country.

''This momentum must be maintained and strengthened,'' Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Panagiotis Beglitis said in a statement issued to mark Turkey's quake anniversary.


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