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Aid workers in Turkey are building new neighborhoods amid the wreckage of old ones


In the wreckage of cities in southern Turkey, new neighborhoods are going up.


Aid workers are setting up rows of portable homes, tiny houses that look a little like shipping containers. They're trying to supply everything else that residents may need to live for a year, if not more.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Fatma Tanis is in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. Welcome to the program.

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. Thank you.

INSKEEP: What did you see as you walked around?

TANIS: So I went to a camp in Nurdagi, a town here that's been badly hit. There were rows and rows of these portable homes. They've got little windows, a door. And inside, there's just a bunk bed and a couch that should comfortably fit three people. But you see many families with 6 to 7 people trying to squeeze in. And this camp is being built in the middle of the rubble of an old neighborhood that is still being cleared. So there's dust everywhere. And I met an elderly couple here who had lost all nine of their children and also all of their grandchildren in the earthquake. They said they haven't been able to sleep at night since it happened.

Now, the government's plan is to move everyone who needs housing into these camps for at least a year until new permanent housing is built. They've also put up day care, animal shelters. People can get haircuts. And mental health professionals are available as well. But these container camps are just getting set up. So most people are still living in tent camps or even looking for tents. And the conditions there are very difficult, with no easy access to toilets, running water and many concerns of illnesses spreading.

INSKEEP: I just want to be clear on something. You're telling me there are some people in these container cities. But you might walk a block over in the rubble and find people who have literally nowhere to sleep. They're just sleeping on the ground or whatever.

TANIS: Exactly, or in tents.

INSKEEP: OK. All of this happening, we should note, is in a democratic country that has become a lot less democratic in recent years. The president has a lot more power than the civilian leaders used to have. But now he faces a lot of criticism for this earthquake and the response to it. Is he in trouble?

TANIS: Well, many people here think so. There's lots of resentment at the government for its slow response in the first days after the earthquake and for allowing the buildings to go up that were clearly not up to code, and many of them crashed. Authorities have been arresting contractors and managers who were involved. But the government is also on the defensive, with officials telling reporters that, you know, people are angry because the situation itself is bad and not because of government mismanagement. This week, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicated that elections would be held on May 14 - less than three months left. For him, it's going to be his biggest challenge yet, and lots of questions about whether it'll be a fair one. The opposition has just announced they'll be naming a candidate next week.

INSKEEP: Well, now that some time has passed, is it possible to measure the scale of this disaster?

TANIS: You know, Steve, it's still a bit difficult to process what you see here. The damage remains vast. And everywhere you go - you know, I saw piles of crumbled concrete and all sorts of tilted-sideways, gravity-defying buildings that are still standing but extremely dangerous. And the loss to human life is large - 45,000 people dead in Turkey and roughly 6,000 people in Syria, bringing the total to more than 50,000 lives lost. And thousands are still missing. And more people are still dying from critical injuries.

INSKEEP: One-point-five million people homeless, some of them, I guess, getting into those container homes. Fatma, thanks so much.

TANIS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Fatma Tanis in southern Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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