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20 die in Turkey floods

September 10, 2009|Associated Press

ISTANBUL, TURKEY — The heaviest rainfall in at least eight decades sent flash floods barreling across a major highway and into busy business districts in Turkey's largest city on Wednesday, trapping factory workers and truck drivers in their vehicles and drowning at least 20 people.

Waters 6 feet high in some places flooded hundreds of homes and offices and cut off the TEM highway, which connects central Istanbul to the city's main airport and goes on to Greece and Bulgaria.

Rescue crews in helicopters pulled people off rooftops in Ikitelli, a district of media offices and corporate headquarters about 13 miles from the Bosporus strait, which divides the European and Asian parts of Turkey.

The surging water flipped trucks, cars and buses, crushing many into piles of debris.

Some people took refuge atop stranded vehicles. Others were pulled from the floodwaters by passersby who threw ropes or pulled them from the raging waters.

People in inflatable boats fought the swirling waters to go from vehicle to vehicle, picking up survivors. Several other survivors managed to swim to a tractor driving at the edge of the floods.

One man kept disappearing beneath the surface as he struggled in the water and appeared to drown.

Turkey's meteorology institute said about 5.2 inches of rain fell in the area.

Rapid population growth fueled by decades of immigration from Turkey's impoverished rural regions has meant that the metropolis of 15 million has developed without adequate infrastructure to handle even moderate rainfall.

"The rains are not able to reach the sea through natural channels due to skewed and unplanned development," said Filiz Demirayak, the World Wildlife Fund's Turkey director.

Gov. Muammer Guler of Istanbul said at least 20 people were killed downtown, 20 were injured and an unknown number were missing.

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