'It was the longest 45 seconds of my life'

by Teresa Acklin
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In the early morning hours of Aug. 17, Asil Sami Aji, like most of the residents near Izmit, Turkey, was asleep. Suddenly, the ground began to move.

Mr. Aji, who is chairman of Cargill's new grain terminal in Yarimca, Turkey, on the Gulf of Izmit, quickly gathered his wife and two children and the family huddled together in their fifth floor apartment, waiting for the violent shaking and tremendous noise to end.

"We were dead scared," he recalled.

The massive earthquake that rocked a 300-kilometer area around Izmit that morning lasted less than a minute, but it seemed like an eternity to the Aji family.

"It was the longest 45 seconds of my life," Mr. Aji said.

Finally, the earth stopped shaking. The quake immediately took out all power and water supplies.

"At first we were afraid even to light candles," Mr. Aji said. Gradually, the family gathered up some clothes and, avoiding the elevator, made their way down the stairs and outside.

The Ajis were lucky. No one was hurt and their apartment building suffered little damage. But the quake killed more than 15,000 people and left a quarter of a million homeless. The death toll has risen daily since the earthquake, as more bodies are found in the rubble.

It was the most powerful earthquake to hit Turkey since a 1939 quake killed an estimated 33,000 people in the eastern province of Erzincan.

Turkey's leading business newspaper, Finansal Forum, estimated the quake could cost the country's struggling economy as much as U.S.$25 billion, at a time when Turkey is struggling to reduce its government deficit and reduce an annual inflation rate that has risen to more than 60 percent.

The International Red Cross has launched an appeal for U.S.$27 million to help those left homeless by the earthquake. An estimated 50,000 people will probably have to spend the winter in tent camps, the organization said.

The Turkish government has attempted to relocate survivors to government buildings, schools and summer camps, but many are afraid to go inside a building of any kind, said Mr. Aji. Several recent aftershocks have sent people fleeing for the streets, afraid of being trapped inside a crumbling building. The terror has been fueled by a widespread rumor that another large earthquake will hit Istanbul very soon.

Besides housing, priorities have been to restore crippled power and water lines and to provide food to survivors. A few days after the quake, crowds mobbed a convoy of bread trucks.

Companies like Cargill were quick to respond to the emergency. "The first day our employees were very active, and immediately started to help local community," Mr. Aji said.

Cargill employees took food, water and clothing to survivors, and served as interpreters for the international relief teams that flowed in from countries all over the world. The company also sent teams of experts to help clear away rubble and transport people to safer areas. Cargill even converted several of its tanker trucks to haul water to aid stations.

Cargill has about 450 employees in Turkey, and while none were killed in the earthquake, many lost relatives or were displaced when their homes were destroyed. The company launched a fund-raising campaign, and Cargill employees in offices all over the world have donated money, clothing and food to help their co-workers in Turkey.

The grain and milling industry in and around the earthquake area was hardly affected. The bulk of the flour mills in Turkey are located in central Anatolia, some distance from earthquake area.

"There are not so many milling plants in the earthquake-affected area," said Unal Sarigedik, an agricultural specialist with the U.S. agricultural attaché in Ankara. "Since Turkish milling capacity is twice as large as the need, Turkey is not short of milling products."

The market for grain-based food products is normal, and any deficiencies are being supplied from other regions, he added.

One corn processor in the area was affected, Mr. Sarigedik said. Port facilities owned by Toprak Mahsülleri Ofisi in Derince, a suburb of Izmit, also experienced some damage, including a derailed ship unloader, and will need repairs. The port's 300,000-tonne grain silo was undamaged.

Imports and exports were being diverted to other ports, including Haydarpasa in Istanbul, Tekirdag or Bandirma, Mr. Sarigedik said.

Cargill's new grain terminal in Yarimca, only six kilometers from the epicenter, also was not damaged, and operations resumed the next day.

A.Tarik Pekel of the milling equipment company Orkimsen, which is based in the capitol of Ankara, said his company sent employees and food to the earthquake-damaged area.

"Almost all industry stopped in Turkey and not only our company but all companies tried to help them," Dr. Pekel said. "We stopped production and sent our people with food and other supplies to that area. Now there is enough food and assistance but still the infrastructure doesn't work properly and communication with that area is still a problem."

One Turkish flour miller said the industry does not expect any widespread problems with wheat, flour and industrial bread provisions. The worst part for those not directly involved in the disaster, he said, was the emotional and psychological after-effects.

"We are still feeling sorrow," the miller said