By Mehmet Emin Caliskan and Bulent Usta
Families of those missing after Turkey’s worst floods in years anxiously watched rescue teams search buildings on Saturday, fearing the death toll from the raging torrents could rise further.
At least 44 people have died from the floods in the northern Black Sea region, the second natural disaster to strike the country this month.
Drone footage by Reuters showed massive damage in the flood-hit Black Sea town of Bozkurt, where emergency workers were searching demolished buildings.
Thirty-six people died as a result of floods in the Kastamonu district which includes Bozkurt, and another seven people died in Sinop and one in Bartin, the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) said.
In one collapsed building along the banks of the swollen river, 10 people were still believed buried. The rapid floodwaters appeared to have swept away the foundations of several other apartment blocks.
Relatives of the missing, desperate for news, were nearby.
“This is unprecedented. There is no power. The mobile phones were dead. There was no reception. You couldn’t receive news from anyone,” said Ilyas Kalabalik, a 42-year-old resident.
“We had no idea whether the water was rising or not, whether it flooded the building or not. We were just waiting, like this. Our wives and children were panicked. Once sun came up in the morning, we saw police officers. They took us from the building and hurled us into a gas station.”
Kalabalik was surrounded by residents who were asking each other whether anyone had any news about missing people.
“My aunt’s children are there. My aunt is missing. Her husband is missing. Her twin grandchildren are missing. The wife of our building manager is missing along with their two children,” Kalabalik told Reuters.
The floods brought chaos to northern provinces just as authorities were declaring wildfires that raged through southern coastal regions for two weeks had been brought under control.
About 45 cm (18 inches) of rain fell in less than three days in one village near Bozkurt.
“It was so awful. I cannot get the screams of a dog with her puppies out of my head,” Elif, a resident in her 20s, told Reuters.
Torrents of water tossed dozens of cars and heaps of debris along streets, destroyed bridges, closed roads and cut off electricity to hundreds of villages.
“We were working in our textile workshop, and the electricity was cut off. Then we found out that the hydroelectric dam had overflowed. We left the factories and ran for our lives,” said Emine Rencler, a 42-year-old worker.
The small town of Bozkurt lies in a valley along the banks of the Ezine river in Kastamonu province, 2.5 km (1.6 miles) from the Black Sea.
“The water quickly took over Bozkurt completely. (…) At least 60, 70 people I know are still missing. My neighbours, my colleagues, my relatives. We have so many casualties,” Rencler said.