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Falling Rocks Halt Efforts to Rescue 100 Missing in Mudslide

June 24, 1988

CATAK, Turkey (AP) _ A rash of new mudslides sent boulders hurtling down a mountainside today, disrupting efforts by rescue workers to reach 100 people believed buried under tons of mud and rocks that smothered this village.

Radio reports said 31 people were injured in the mudslides Thursday in Catak village. One body was recovered Thursday before torrential rains triggered more slides that halted rescue efforts for the night.

Radio reports also said villagers heard people crying for help from beneath the debris.

Catak is in Trabzon province near the Black Sea, about 500 miles east of Ankara.

Turkish civil defense workers, helped by a 32-member West German rescue team with search dogs, shoveled through the mud and stones that roared down on the mountain village Thursday morning.

″The dogs found three separate areas where there may be people buried, but we don’t yet know if they’re dead or alive,″ said Klaus Kolter, of the Mannheim-based West German Rescue Dog Association.

Soon after the rescuers started work this morning, however, rocks began tumbling down the mountainside, hitting a truck and slightly injuring the driver, the Anatolia news agency said.

″The rescue operation is difficult because landslides keep coming down,″ Gov. Enver Hizlan of Trabzon province said. ″They stop work and raise thick clouds of dust everywhere.″

Turkish newspapers today reported death tolls ranging between 50 and 200. They said five buses and two trucks were buried beneath tons of mud.

Officials denied an announcement Thursday by the Turkish Red Crescent, a relief organization, that up to 300 people had been killed.

Televised reports said the landslides had caused a river to flood the village. Footage showed some houses under water and others buried beneath the mud, their roofs barely protruding.

The televised reports also showed trees and lampposts lying on ground. Some vehicles were buried in soil.

Hizlan said 26 Turks and three West German tourists were so far reported missing, but that he expected the numbers to rise.

″They were mostly people from other districts, so we haven’t heard from their relatives yet,″ Hizlan said.

Villagers said the initial mudslides with a deep rumbling noise.

″It sounded like someone was exploding dynamite close by. There were clouds of dust. I flung myself down, then ran for my life when I saw the landslide coming,″ said construction foreman Recep Ergain.

Heavy rains apparently triggered the slide, which buried a crowded coffeehouse, a restaurant, four houses and a high school closed for the summer vacation. It blocked a fast-flowing stream that flooded another part of the village.

″The villagers panicked as they rushed away from the falling debris. I saw 25 to 30 people crammed on a small crossing that collapsed under their weight,″ Ergain said.

He said bulldozers had uncovered an empty van, but that a bus was still unaccounted for.

The three missing West Germans were identified as Markus Mutter, Andreas Burghard and Birgit Hastenteufel, all traveling to Trabzon. Their ages were not immediately available.

They were reported missing by two friends.

Catak village president Riza Yavuz was quoted as telling Turkish newspapers he had warned the Public Works Ministry of a landslide threat in the area, where a major highway construction project is under way, but got no response.

The earth had been loosened by heavy rains in the region, where frequent landslides are sometimes blamed on extensive cutting of forests.

The television reports said it took about four hours for rescue teams to reach the site. They said 40 trucks and 20 bulldozers tried unsuccessfully to push away the mud and stone which covered the area. They moved slowly for fear of causing new landslides.

Buses and vehicles were waiting on a road at the time of the slide because the highway was closed by the earlier landslide Thursday shortly after midnight, the reports said.

Catak is strung along a two-lane highway leading to eastern Anatolia and Iran from the Black Sea port of Trabzon. It lies in Turkey’s main hazelnut- growing region near a famous tourist attraction, the ruined Byzantine monastery of Surmela.

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