By Nevzat Devranoglu
SINOP, Turkey (Reuters) -Emergency workers battled to relieve flood-hit areas of Turkey’s Black Sea region on Friday, as the death toll rose to 31 in the second natural disaster to strike the country this month.
The floods, among the worst Turkey has experienced, brought chaos to northern provinces just as authorities were declaring wildfires that raged through southern coastal regions for two weeks had been brought under control.
Torrents of water tossed dozens of cars and heaps of debris along streets, destroyed bridges, closed roads and cut off electricity to hundreds of villages.
“This is the worst flood disaster I have seen,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters late on Thursday after surveying damage that extended across the provinces of Bartin, Kastamonu and Sinop.
Twenty-nine people died as a result of floods in Kastamonu and another two people died in Sinop, the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) said.
Ten people were being treated in hospital, it added.
Opposition politicians said many more people were missing and the number of deaths could rise sharply.
“The infrastructure in Ayancik (district) has completely collapsed. The sewage system is destroyed. There is no electricity or water,” Sinop Mayor Baris Ayhan told Reuters.
The floods and fires, which killed eight people and devastated tens of thousands of hectares of forest, struck in the same week that a U.N. panel said global warming was dangerously close to spiraling out of control, and warned that extreme weather would become more severe.
About 45 cm (18 inches) of rain fell in less than three days in one village near the worst-hit region, Kastamonu’s Bozkurt district, AFAD cited meteorology authorities as saying.
Footage of the flood’s first moments in Bozkurt showed the river there overflowing in a fast-moving deluge which tore up trees and dragged away vehicles.
The small town of Bozkurt lies in a valley along the banks of the Ezine river in Kastamonu province, 2.5 km (1.6 miles) from the Black Sea.
Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmakers attributed the level of destruction there to extensive construction on the river banks in recent years.
Speaking in Bozkurt, Erdogan declared the three provinces a disaster zone. “Our country has been grappling with natural disasters for a while, as are many places in the world. This is not just our country but the United States, Canada, Germany and many other European countries,” he said.
More than 1,800 people were evacuated from flood-affected areas, some with the aid of helicopters and boats, AFAD said.
Helicopters lowered coast guard personnel onto the roofs of buildings to rescue people stranded as flood water swept through the streets, footage shared by the Interior Ministry showed.
Nearly 180 villages were still without electricity on Friday evening. Five bridges had collapsed and many others were damaged, leading to road closures, AFAD added. Parts of the roads were also swept away.
Turkey’s meteorology authority said more heavy rain was expected in the central and eastern Black Sea region with a risk of further floods.
(Additional reporting Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans, Mike Collett-White and Giles Elgood)