by Leo Kendrick
Turkey’s well-publicized struggles with wildfires in the country’s Mediterranean provinces over recent weeks has been traded for damaging flooding in several Black Sea provinces, which received heavy rainfall last week, only days before the last flames in the south were finally quelled.
As of August 16, the official death toll from extreme flooding in Turkey’s western Black Sea region has risen to 77, with Kastamonu province accounting for 62 of these casualties. Sinop province has reported 15 deaths, while a single death was reported in Bartın. Dozens of individuals are still reported missing across all three provinces. The flooding has resulted in the evacuation of over 2000 residents in this region, with heavy damages to buildings, bridges, and property in affected areas.
Among the most heavily affected areas is the small town of Bozkurt in Kastamonu province. Ezine River, which bisects the town, breached its banks following heavy rainfall last week, causing casualties and widespread property damage, including the collapse of an eight-story building, as well as the partial collapse of two others. These buildings, located approximately ten meters from the river’s banks, were inundated after water levels rose an estimated 4.5-5 meters as a result of the heavy downpours.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who visited the small town on Saturday evening, announced the official death toll, amidst suspicion that the real numbers were higher than those officially announced. Locals who spoke with Medyascope alleged that the actual loss of life was significantly higher than the figures quoted by Soylu in his statement. Criticism of the government and municipality’s response also centered around evacuation orders which were given to local residents by police just 10-15 minutes before the town was engulfed by floodwaters. Residents were reported fleeing from their homes in droves on foot, some wearing only pajamas. Although Black Sea provinces are accustomed to frequent rainfall, many locals expressed that the level of devastation seen in last week’s deluge was unlike anything they had ever witnessed previously.
Government response to the wildfires in Mediterranean provinces earlier this month fell under heavy criticism for their lack of preparedness, including a near complete lack of aircraft capable of extinguishing the blazes, necessitating rentals and donations of equipment from allies and neighbors. While response to last week’s flooding was less heavily criticized, some detrators noted the late evacuation orders as a major misstep; other criticisms, such as those from main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, focused on the ease with which newly constructed bridges in Sinop province were swept away by surging floodwaters. Many older-constructed bridges, common throughout the region, were reportedly unaffected by the deluge.
Others noted the comparatively lower media converage surrounding the Black Sea flooding events relative to the wildfires in Muğla and Antalya over recent weeks, despite the significantly greater loss of life resulting from the floods. Muğla and Antalya provinces are host to a great many hotels, villas, and tourist destinations enjoyed by foreigners and Turkish vacationers alike. The affected Black Sea provinces, however, are mostly rural with fewer large cities and hold less importance for Turkey’s tourism sector. In his statement over the weekend, Interior Minister Soylu condemned alleged politicization of the country’s recent natural disasters, defending government responses in both Mediterranean and Black Sea regions. Soylu’s statement underlined how the government had acted in lockstep with local residents throughout both events, despite allegations that as many as 80% of those fighting fires in the south were civilians. The government, Soylu was quoted saying, “will be here until all wounds are healed.”