This image grab taken yesterday shows a view of the wreckage of a Russian Bombardier Be-200 aircraft in Kahramanmaras in southern Turkey. – AFP

ISTANBUL: Turkey battled disaster on two fronts yesterday with eight people dying in the crash a firefighting aircraft and rescuers racing to find survivors of flash floods in the north that have killed at least 44. In Moscow, the defense ministry said all eight people on the Russian plane had perished on the fire-fighting mission.

The air tragedy came just as Turkey was gaining control over hundreds of wildfires that killed eight people and destroyed swathes of forest along the scenic southern coast. In Moscow, news agencies quoted the defense ministry as saying five Russian servicemen and three Turkish citizens were on board the Russian Be-200 plane that went down around 1330 GMT. Television footage showed a column of smoke rising from the remote mountainous zone in the south of the country.

Turkey’s defense ministry issued a statement saying the aircraft on loan from Russia had taken off from Adana to help extinguish fires burning at Kahramanmaras. A surveillance plane and a helicopter had been dispatched to the crash site, the ministry added. Russian consular representatives and a defense ministry commission were reportedly on their way to the area.

Turkey’s official disaster agency AFAD said teams were combing through the rubble of dozens of homes that collapsed due to the floods that hit Black Sea regions on Wednesday after heavy rains. In the village of Babacay in the northern province of Sinop, 40 houses and two bridges were completely destroyed by the floods, according to state news agency Anadolu.

The latest official death toll published yesterday by AFAD stood at 44, with nine other people in hospital. Scientists believe such natural disasters are becoming more intense and frequent because of global warming caused by polluting emissions. Turkey’s emergence as a frontline country in the battle against climate change also poses a challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan two years before the next scheduled general election.

As the initial shock of the floods faded, so questions and criticisms arose. Floods survivors accused local authorities of not giving them proper warning about the dangers of incoming storms. Criticism has also been levelled at the fact several buildings were built in flood zones. In Bozkurt in Kastamonu province, one eight-storey building constructed on the banks of the Ezine river collapsed.

Footage shot by survivors showed furious river waters flooding the streets in just a few minutes, carrying off cars and traffic signs. The government has denied that the sudden rise in water levels was linked to a hydro-electric power station further up the river, after media reported its water-retention dam may have ruptured.

Erdogan sounded both mournful and hopeful as he attended a funeral on Friday for the first victims and led a prayer before a few hundred residents in the inundated city of Kastamonu. “We will do whatever we can as a state as quickly as we can, and rise from the ashes,” Erdogan told the crowd. “We can’t bring back the citizens we lost, but our state has the means and power to compensate those who lost loved ones.” – AFP