Istanbul, Turkey: The death toll from Turkey’s flash floods soared to 31 on Friday as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited one of the hardest-hit cities to lead a prayer for the victims and pledge government help.
The devastation across Turkey’s northern Black Sea regions came just as the disaster-hit country was winning control over hundreds of wildfires that killed eight people and destroyed swathes of forest along its scenic southern coast.
A previous spate of flooding killed six people last month in the northeastern province of Rize.
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 Erdogan two years before the next scheduled general election.
The powerful Turkish leader was roundly condemned on social media for tossing out bags of tea to locals while visiting one of the fire-ravaged areas at the end of July.
Polls show climate warming being a top priority for up to seven million Generation Z teens who will be eligible to vote for the first time when Erdogan seeks to extend his rule into a third decade.
Erdogan sounded both mournful and hopeful as he attended a funeral 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.”
But the anger appeared to be building in Black Sea towns and cities, over what some said was a lack of proper warning from local officials about the dangers of the incoming storms.
“They told us to move our cars but they didn’t tell us to save ourselves or our children,” Kastamonu province resident Arzu Yucel told the private DHA news agency.
“If they had, I would have taken them and left in five minutes. They didn’t even tell us that the river was overflowing,” the elderly woman said.
Turkey’s rugged Black Sea coast is dotted with villages built along valleys that frequently experience heavy flooding in the summer months.
Some longtime residents of the region said this year’s flooding was the worst they could recall.
“I am 75 years old and have never seen anything like this,” Batin province resident Adem Senol told the Anadolu state news agency.
“The water rose higher than the level of our windows, it broke down our door, even a wall,” he said. “It was a powerful stream, enough to sweep away houses.”
Emergency services said waters briefly rose in some parts as high as four meters (13 feet) before subsiding and spreading across a region stretching more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) wide.
Images on social media showed bridges collapsing under the force of the rushing waters and roads buckling from mudslides.
Footage captured on a phone showed one man standing on top of his car as it was being swept along by the current. He then vanished in the swirling waters when his vehicle hit a wall.
Concern was also rising over a likely higher death toll.
Some locals told Turkish media Friday that they still had no news from their closest family and friends.
Weather services predicted rains to continue to lash the affected area for the remainder of the week.