Property owners and developers in North Cyprus will face “legal action” if they are found to have contributed to last week’s devastating floods by building on dry stream beds, Prime Minister Tufan Erhürman has said.
He issued the warning on a wave of public anger after four people died in the storms and floods which wreaked havoc in the Girne region last Wednesday night (5 December).
Dozens of vehicles, roads and buildings were damaged during the freak weather, which saw some areas lashed by almost 25cm of rain in just 24 hours. Alsancak, Lapta, Diemen and parts of Girne were the worst-affected places.
Günay Kandaz, 18, Gaye Soyutok, 18, Tolga Bekçi, 21, and Ahmet Kılıç, 23, lost their lives after the car they were travelling in was “swept away” by raging floodwaters on the mountain section of the Lefkoşa-Girne dual carriageway. The vehicle came off at a bend in the Ciklos area. Wreckage from the car was later found half buried in mud.
Rescuers recovered the bodies of three of the victims on Thursday morning, although an identity mix-up meant that police initially said that Ms Kandaz’s corpse was that of Ms Soyutok. Round-the-clock efforts to locate Ms Soyutok continued into the weekend, with her lifeless body found on Saturday evening.
The first victim to be buried was Mr Kılıç, whose funeral took place outside the İsmail Safa mosque located within Lefkoşa’s main cemetery on Friday.
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – who was in the TRNC for various contacts – was among the politicians to attend. Dr Erhürman and TRNC opposition leader Ersin Tatar, head of the National Unity Party, also paid their respects.
Averof Neophytou, Greek Cypriot leader of South Cyprus’s Democratic Rally, joined Turkish Cypriot ministers and Turkish military figures at a joint funeral for Tolga Bekçi and Günay Kandaz, which took place in Dikmen on Saturday. The pair were engaged to each other, local press reports said.
Writing on Twitter before the funerals, Mr Neophytou wrote: “Our thoughts and prayers are with our T/c compatriots who have been badly affected by the severe floods that hit the Kyrenia area. Our sincere condolences to the families of the 4 victims of this natural disaster. #Cyprus”
Ms Soyutok was laid to rest on Monday, also in Dikmen, following an autopsy.
Offers of help and messages of condolences came from Turkey, South Cyprus, the UK and the US following news of the deaths.
In a phone call to Dr Erhürman on Thursday, Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay expressed his sorrow over the fatalities. He said that Turkey was ready to provide the Turkish Cypriot authorities with “any assistance needed” and that it “always stood by the TRNC”.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu made similar pledges in a phone call to his opposite number Ayşegül Baybars, telling her that Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority could provide “all kinds of assistance to the region”.
Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades expressed his sympathies during a phone conversation with President Mustafa Akıncı and stated his readiness to help if needed.
Mr Akıncı thanked Mr Anastasiades, but said that there was “no need for additional support at this stage”.
A tweet from the British High Commission in Cyprus – issued in English and Turkish – expressed condolences for the “loss of life of four young Cypriots” and stated that the UK had pledged support “in case of further danger of life”.
American ambassador to South Nicosia Kathleen Doherty issued her condolences “on behalf of the entire” US embassy “to all those who were impacted by the devastating floods in the past week and the tragic loss of four young Cypriots”.
“Our thoughts are with the victims and their families,” she added.
Issuing a written statement on Sunday, Dr Erhürman said that he had ordered an investigation into the flood disaster, with the focus on construction and watercourses.
Inspections had shown that the condition of stream beds in “many areas was contrary to legislation and scientific data”, he was quoted as saying.
A report into the matter by the Union of the Chamber of Cyprus Turkish Engineers and Architects will be “transparently shared with the public”, Dr Erhürman stressed, and that the priority was to “dress the wounds of the flood disaster through social solidarity”. He later said that the report would be published “within a week to 10 days”.
“If there was any unlawful practice which caused or increased the damage, then those responsible will be detected rapidly and legal action will be taken against them,”he warned.
The Public Works and Transport Ministry is also drawing up its own report into the state of the Lefkoşa-Girne road – fully reopened to traffic just days before the floods and after months of roadworks – following criticism on social media.
Users shared images and video showing a section of the road where floodwaters had eroded the foundations, suggesting that this could have been a factor in last week’s tragedy. Claims were also made that there had been no crash barriers at the site of the fatal incident.
Under-fire Public Works and Transport Minister Tolga Atakan’s department issued a lengthy nine-point rebuttal of the accusations. It included a map showing that the damaged section of the road and the point where the four victims’ car is thought to have departed the highway were “200 metres apart”.
Roadworks on the part of the route where the four lost their lives were completed “on 1 June, 2018”and there was “no lack of crash barriers on dangerous bends and cliff edges”,the statement said.
It did, however, admit that the fatalities could have occurred at a gap left between barriers to allow for access to a water depot, where a “32 metre-wide platform”exists.
“The police investigation into the manner and details of the incident is continuing,” the statement said, adding that it hoped the investigation would “shed light” on the exact circumstances.
A total of 143 vehicles, 93 roads and walls, furniture from 90 homes, and 12 buildings were damaged during the floods, according to figures released by the TRNC’s Interior Ministry on Saturday. Fifty-seven people were provided with temporary shelter, while another 16 received aid, the ministry said.
Aid campaign launched
Meanwhile an aid campaign for those affected by the bad weather has been launched.
The religious Evkaf Foundation, which operates under the TRNC Prime Ministry, together with the North Cyprus Red Crescent Society, is providing food, shelter and blankets to those whose homes were flooded.
Special bank accounts for financial donations have also been set up. The details are as follows:
Kıbrıs Vakıflar Bank, Lefkoşa branch–
Turkish lira account: 10-304-1954; Pound sterling account: 10-301-3902;
Euro account: 10-301-3901; US dollar account: 10-301-3903.
Türkiye Ziraat Bank, Lefkoşa branch –
Turkish lira account: 157100-5007; Pound sterling account: 157100-5010;
Euro account: 157100-5009; and the US dollar account: 157100-5008.
Main picture top – the four young people who died in TRNC floods (from top left clockwise): Gaye Soyutok, 18, Günay Kandaz, 18, Tolga Bekçi, 21, and Ahmet Kılıç, 23.