After the earthquake: Rescue and aid workers attempting a rescue in Gaziantep, Turkey Picture: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid/Flickr

The desperate attempt to pull survivors from the remains of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria has all but concluded. Rescuers spent almost two weeks searching the rubble for survivors, among widespread devastation that saw at least 44,000 people lose their lives in northern Syria and south eastern Turkey.

Yet the final death toll from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake is expected to rise even higher. As Socialist Worker went to press, rescue efforts remained in just two areas—Kahramanmaras and Hatay. People have been forced to organise their own rescue efforts after government resources came too late to save them.

Though some of the dead are not yet cold, the international vultures are already circling overhead. US secretary of state Antony Blinken went to Turkey last week and announced some humanitarian aid. But the £83 million is a tiny ­proportion of the billions being poured into the Ukraine war.

Blinken used the opportunity of the visit to enter into negotiations with Turkish president Recept Tayyip Erdogan over Turkey’s refusal to ratify Sweden and Finland’s Nato membership applications. Meanwhile, the Turkish ­government is pushing back on renewed anger at its lacklustre response to the disaster.

Ron Margulies from the DSIP ­socialist group in Istanbul told Socialist Worker, ­“Pro-government TV channels and newspapers started ­pushing the concept of ‘The disaster of the century’. “By labelling the disaster as an unavoidable act of nature, it allows Erdogan to deflect from the real causes of such a high death toll.

“So many people died because the government didn’t act on ­earlier warnings to enact harm-reduction measures, such as ensuring ­buildings were constructed safely. Yet his government allowed firms to contrast dangerous buildings, if they paid for the privilege. Erdogan has boldly claimed that it’s not possible to be prepared for an earthquake of such magnitude—yet this isn’t washing with people who saw how slowly the government acted.

 “Everyone in Turkey is clear that a great deal more could and should have been done to be prepared, and that the government was criminally slow in responding,” said Ron.

And now, in a shameless attempt to deflect political heat at the ballot box, the government is attempting to push back upcoming elections. In the absence of any organised, large-scale protests, it’s likely those elections would be a focus for fury at the regime.

“Elections had recently been announced for 14 May both for president and parliament,” said Ron. “Government spokesmen have been implying that it would be wrong to hold elections so soon after the earthquake. Clearly they are going to try to postpone the elections. There can be no doubt that Erdogan and his party would now lose any election very heavily.”

The people of Turkey and Syria have only begun to grieve their losses—but they must resist attempts by those at the top to obscure their role in the earthquake tragedy.

Toxic train-wreck puts lives in danger

A deliberate cover-up is obscuring the dangers after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in the US state of Ohio earlier this month. The crash, in the small town of East Palestine, caused a major chemical leak.

About 50 out of 141 cars on the train derailed and exploded in a towering fireball over the town of 4,700 at the edge of the Appalachian hills. The fire burned near tankers carrying vinyl chloride but caused no immediate injuries.

Two days later, officials feared a “major explosion” and conducted a controlled burn of vinyl chloride as a prevention measure.
Burning vinyl chloride plumed into a giant black cloud, and chemicals leaked into the earth and water supply.

Most residents had evacuated, and on 8 February they were given clearance to return, but many still see dangers.  At the site of the wreck, crumpled and charred tanker cars still lay in the mud aside the tracks.

The way the disaster unfolded shows just how little the US state cares. The Environmental Protection Agency says the air and water are “safe”. But the risks of the spill are unknown because scientists are unsure what level of vinyl chloride can be tolerated.

Exposure to the chemical can cause skin reactions and headaches. High exposure can also cause liver cancer. And when the gas is burned—as it was—hydrogen chloride and phosgene, and other harmful chemicals are created. Butyl acrylate also spilled. It causes respiratory problems.

Residents reported headaches, breathing problems and dizziness in the days after the wreck. Hundreds of people reacted with anger at the complacency of officials at a recent town hall meeting. One resident demanded, “Why are people getting sick if there’s nothing in the air or water?”

The state wants a quick return to “business as usual”. But a few days after Ohio governor Mike DeWine publicly declared the water in East Palestine safe to drink, water authorities in Cincinnati, hundreds of miles away, announced they would shut off the intakes from the river Ohio.
Sophie Squire

France heads for hot spring

French workers are preparing for mass strikes on 7 March, and some want to use the day to launch indefinite action. All the union federations signed up to a declaration to put “France at a standstill” on the day.

But some see this as just a one-off action to pressure the government as its proposal to increase the pension age by two years goes to the Senate.

Yet sections of trade unionists in the rail, on the Paris public transport system, refineries, schools and refuse collection are calling for more. They want to stay out on 8 March —which is also International Women’s Day—and have “renewable” action. This is where strikers vote each day on whether to continue their action.

Such methods, used on a wide scale and combined with inter-union strike committees, won big victories in the 1995 revolt. And, there are also moves to add new demands over pay, hours and earlier retirement to the aims of the movement.

Charlie Kimber

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