Mexican rescuers robbed, threatened at gun point in disaster area
The Turkish member of a Mexican search and rescue team that arrived in Turkey to take part in operations following the twin earthquakes on 6 February said that their equipment were stolen several times, that they were forced at gun point to recover valuable items from the rubble of a collapsed building, and that they were denied assistance by officials for their transfer from the quake zone back to Ankara.
Aydemir Tasova, who has been living in Mexico for eight years and a member of the Mexican Topos Azteca Inernational Search and Rescue Brigade, told Turkish daily Cumhuriyet that on their arrival in Turkey he noticed that some of their equipment used for seismic detention and visual location of victims were stolen. He said:
"I saw that the lock of a luggage containing our equipment was broken and the luggage was opened. A friend said that one of his bags was missing too. We were unable to recover a Leader Multisearch 8 kit consisting of UWB radar, three seismic sensors, a thermal camera, a color search camera, and a Leader Hasty MS 2 kit, consisting of three seismic sensors, and a color search camera."
He said that a group of volunteers allocated by the Disaster and Emergency Management (AFAD) to assist the Mexican team were without tents and sleeping bags, and that when he asked AFAD to provide them with tents he was rejected. He added that their request for an electric generator and batteries were rejected too.
Tasova said that in the following days more equipment and some cash were stolen, including three helmets (two with visors), a professional safety harness, 200 m of 11 mm reflective static rope, a goose down sleeping bag, a 85 l Duffle bag and two heavy duty transfer bags. He added that even more equipment were stolen till their day of departure on 19 February, but did not specify.
He also gave an account of an incident in which they were threatened at gun point by a group of people and forced to search for valuable items in the rubble.
"We faced a dangerous situation while we were working in the rubble of the collapsed Havare Hotel [in the southern province of Hatay], as we were threatened by a large group of people," he told.
"Some of the people objected to our operation. They were inclined to carry out an excavation using construction equipment to quickly recover the remains of their family members (...) A while later some others told us that there were their gold and foreign currency in a room on the second floor of the hotel and asked us to recover it. When I refused, one put a gun on my head and threatened me. The police turned a blind eye and left the site without responding to our call. We had earlier asked AFAD to have troops and police sent to the area. We were held hostage there for several hours. A police team eventually spotted us, by chance, and we were able to leave."
Tasova said that at the end of their mission their request to be transferred back to the Turkish capital was rejected on grounds that Turkish president was about to make a visit to the area, and that they could fly to Ankara only with the support provided by people he reached through the social media.