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32 dead in Turkey floods

ISTANBUL, Sept 10 – Floods that tore through Istanbul and the surrounding region swept away cars and bridges and killed at least 32 people, according to a new toll released on Thursday which was expected to rise.

As a massive rescue operation started, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the floods the "disaster of the century".

Tragic stories came out of the hunt for the eight people reported missing in the flood that left many stranded in apartments and some in trees and on car roofs.

The latest fatal victim found in mud was a man whose wife and three daughters were also killed when the deluge swept through their farm at Saray in the province of Tekirdag, to the west of Istanbul, Anatolia news agency reported.

Rescuers recovered 13 bodies at a truck park in the Istanbul district of Basaksehir, NTV news channel reported.

Survivors said the drivers were asleep in their trucks when a five metre (16 feet) high flash flood hit, giving them little chance to escape, Anatolia reported.

As the water receded, the park was left under a thick layer of mud with trucks toppled on their sides or piled on top of each other.

Seven women drowned in neighbouring Halkali district, swept away as they tried to escape their minibus taking them to work at a textile factory, Istanbul governor Muammer Guler said.

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"The minibus was right at the front of the factory. It was hit by water coming from both sides. Those at the front managed to get out, but those at the back could not," the governor said.

The floods carried away cars in the streets in many Istanbul districts and swamped houses.

At least 26 of the dead were in the metropolis of 12 million people. Eight people were reported missing.

Many roads remained cut off, many under two metres (six feet) of mud and water, including the main highway to Istanbul airport.

Motorists could be seen Wednesday, clambering on to the roofs of their stalled vehicles, while others climbed trees.

Though the rains eased Wednesday night, new storms are predicted for Friday and Saturday.

The interior ministry pledged the state would compensate Istanbul residents, while the Red Crescent said it had dispatched tents, blankets, food and personnel to Istanbul and Tekirdag province to help survivors.

The prime minister, a former mayor of Istanbul, promised action to strengthen river banks when he went to the city on Wednesday night.

Officials and experts blamed record rainfall and the unplanned urbanization of the city which saw buildings constructed on river beds.

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The Turkish media on Thursday condemned the wildcat planning and official negligence in Istanbul, which has been designated Europe’s Cultural Capital for next year.

"Who is going to be brought to account for this?" questioned the Milliyet newspaper which highlighted large number of building permits for construction near rivers.

It also said city officials had ignored warnings of major storms made by meteorological experts.

The Vatan newspaper called for the resignation of the city government. "You will see no one will be responsible for this drama," wrote Editor Gungor Mengi.

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