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ISTANBUL – Often the bad news, the stories of death and destruction, are the result of armed conflict, of politics, or the result of failed economies and the brutality of poverty. In other words, they are caused by the dramas of man. But the forces of nature can prove just as aggressive.
Flash floods killed 31 people in northwest Turkey on Wednesday, sweeping through the city of Istanbul, swamping houses, turning highways into fast-flowing rivers as the area struggled with its heaviest rainfall in 80 years.
Twenty-six died in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city with 14 million inhabitants, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said late on Wednesday. Another five died in Saray, west of Istanbul, reportedly all from the same family. Nine more were missing, Erdogan said.
The floodwaters rose quickly. After just a few hours of heavy rain, water had covered many of the city’s low-lying areas as well as one of the primary highways connecting the city center and the main airport. News stations showed video of people running and climbing on top of vehicles to escape the rising waters.
Rescue missions were in full swing on Wednesday with about 400 workers equipped with heavy machinery, and two helicopters, said Veysel Eroglu, the minister of environment and forestry.
Istanbul, the business and cultural capital of Turkey, is home to about 14 million people and has historically been vulnerable to natural disasters. The city has grown rapidly over the last 50 years, with uncontrolled and mostly illegal settlements rising on the outskirts.