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Oil Fire Hinders Rescue Efforts

August 18, 1999

IZMIT, Turkey (AP) _ With Turkey’s largest oil refinery burning out of control, police ordered frightened and sobbing families to flee today _ a double tragedy for those struggling in the aftermath of one of the century’s most powerful earthquakes.

Some people were forced to leave behind relatives still missing in the ruins of homes toppled by Tuesday’s monstrous quake. Others couldn’t bear to join the exodus from around the plant, 80 miles southeast of Istanbul.

``I was told to leave but I just couldn’t,″ said Savas Oguz, who believed two family members were still alive in the wreckage of their home near the state-owned Tupras refinery.

Overhead, clouds of jet black smoke blotted out the sun and left a dirty haze.

Firefighting aircraft dropped special chemical foam to try to control the blaze that threatened to engulf the entire field of 30 storage tanks containing 700,000 tons of crude oil. Authorities feared such an inferno could spill over to a nearby fertilizer plant with 8,000 tons of dangerous ammonia.

``If the fire spreads ... it would be a new disaster for Izmit,″ said Memduh Oguz, the governor of the city of 75,000 people.

Thousands of people, mostly on foot and carrying their belongings, streamed away from the plant. Police tried to block cars from the evacuation zone three miles from the fire.

Murat Eskin and nine family members planned to hitchhike to safer ground.

``OK everyone,″ he told them, ``take your slippers off and put on your shoes.″

Elsewhere around the city, the misery showed no signs of easing.

The quake collapsed the main operating room at the main hospital, leaving doctors with little option than the most basic care for the many injured.

``It’s just like a war,″ said Dr. Fevzi Celayir.

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