Istanbul buries dead after fatal floods

An aerial view shows flood-damaged vehicles in Istanbul.
A day after deadly water roared through this city, killing dozens of residents, hundreds of mourners gathered at a mosque for the funerals of seven women who drowned in a minivan.

The seven — employees of a nearby textile factory — died Wednesday when a flash flood engulfed their vehicle as they were traveling to work. Gulsum Senkoglu was one of the few to escape being trapped in the minivan. “I’m still in shock,” said Senkoglu, who complained of memory gaps after Wednesday’s ordeal. Standing a few meters from the felt-draped coffins of her co-workers in Istanbul’s working class neighborhood of Halkali, Senkoglu said she believed that the minivan driver rescued her by pulling her through a window onto the roof of the vehicle. Then she described how he frantically tried and failed to cut into the roof of the minivan to save the other women as the water swirled around them. A young man who gave only his first name, Volkan, sobbed uncontrollably beside the coffin of his cousin, 23-year-old Guldane Ciftci.

Don’t Miss Send us your video and images

CNN Turk

“Her mother warned her not to go to work that day,” he said, adding that Ciftci had begun working at the factory only three days ago. “She was happy to have a job during this economic crisis,” Volkan said. “She was a young girl. She had dreams.” The flash floods killed at least 31 people on Tuesday and Wednesday in Istanbul and in neighboring Tekirdag province. Late Wednesday night, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a news conference at Istanbul’s Disaster Management Center, called the floods the “disaster of the century.” He blamed the high death toll on record rainfall and on developers, who have constructed buildings in vulnerable riverbeds and flood plains. See photos of the devastation “As our ancestors used to say, ‘The river’s revenge will be strong,'” Erdogan said. “We should remember what our ancestors say.” Watch more about the deadly flooding But in the wake of the deadly floods, several urban planning experts said government officials also are partly to blame for the high death toll. “The Istanbul administration, especially in the last 15 years, created these conditions by allowing high-density construction in these areas,” Eyup Muhcu, chairman of Istanbul’s Chamber of Architects, said in an interview with CNN. Muhcu said his association tried and failed in court to prevent construction of industrial and commercial zones in western districts of Istanbul around the Ayamama River, where much of the flooding occurred Wednesday. “They turn the river into concrete channels and, together with the buildings around it, the water rises since it cannot be absorbed,” Muhcu said. “There may be bigger disasters,” he warned. The forecast for the end of the week calls for more rain. View images from iReporters “We are on the highest alert,” said Cengiz Ozturk, spokesman for Istanbul’s Disaster Coordination Center. “Two thousand two hundred and twenty personnel from the municipality, with more than 6,000 various pieces of equipment, are working nonstop to keep the waterways open.” Meanwhile, there were heartbreaking scenes of anguish as relatives buried victims of the flood in the rain-soaked earth of Kanarya cemetery on the western outskirts of Istanbul. Some blamed nature for the tragedy. Some blamed the government. Others simply wept. “The prime minister and the mayor said that the victims are responsible for this,” said Hakan Kilic. His 22-year-old niece, Bircan Karatas, drowned in the minivan on Wednesday.

“The mayor says this is the fault of the people who abuse nature,” Kilic said, “but he is the one who gave permission for a five-star hotel to be constructed in a riverbed two years ago.” Mourners recited a Muslim prayer. Then pallbearers placed the sheet-wrapped body of Karatas, the sole provider for her family, in a hole in the soggy dirt.