Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has faced criticism over his government’s handling in the aftermath of Monday’s devastating earthquakes that have killed more than 15,000 people in both Turkey and Syria.

Earthquake survivors said that state authorities had not come to the rescueleaving victims helpless – without food, tents or equipment  to search for their loved ones trapped in the rubble. Instead, some desperately began digging with their bare hands to find survivors.

Millions have been left without a roof over their head or without any heating in reportedly bitter winter weather.

Turkey’s political opposition said the government acted inadequately and too late. 

“People are on the streets and there is no shelter or heating,” said Mithat Sancar, co-leader of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party during a visit to Hatay in southern Turkey, the hardest hit area in terms of loss of life. 

“There is no water, no tents, no bread and no food. This place seems abandoned to its fate. There is no state or government here. There is pain, there is anger. … If measures were taken in advance and if emergency aid and response works were organized quickly, there would not have been such a great loss of life,” Sancar said.

“Where is the state? Where have they been for two days? We are begging them. Let us do it, we can get them out,” said Sabiha Alinak, near a snow-covered collapsed building in the city of Malatya, where her young relatives were trapped.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition party in Turkey, said the government’s failure to assist the earthquake victims was Erdoğan’s responsibility.

“I refuse to look at what is happening as above politics and align with the ruling party. This collapse is exactly the result of systematic profiteering politics,” he said. “If there is anyone responsible for this process, it is Erdoğan. It is this ruling party that has not prepared the country for an earthquake for 20 years.”

Nasuh Mahruki, founder and president of the volunteer AKUT Search and Rescue Association said the army has not responded fast enough this time, because Erdoğan annulled a protocol that allowed the army to respond without government instruction. 

“Two earthquakes larger than the [Istanbul] earthquake occurred within eight hours,” Mahruki said. “We’ve never experienced anything like this before. We are facing a very difficult process. Therefore, all of Turkey should be mobilized with all its means. The Turkish Armed Forces should have been in the field with their military planes, helicopters and ships from the very first moment.” 

On Wednesday, Erdoğan admitted that the government’s response had “shortcomings.”

“Of course, there are shortcomings. The conditions are clear to see. It’s not possible to be ready for a disaster like this,” Erdoğan said. 

It took Erdoğan more than two days after disaster struck to visit some of the afflicted areas. While visiting Hatay, Erdoğan lashed out against the critics of his government’s lack of response.

“Some dishonorable, dishonest people are making false statements such as ‘we didn’t see any soldiers or police in Hatay’,” Erdoğan said in televised remarks from the province. “Our soldiers and police are honorable. We won’t let the disreputable speak of them like this. … By taking every necessary step, we will carry out a disaster response that won’t leave anyone under the rubble and will not leave anyone to suffer.”

Earlier, Erdoğan said that tourist hotels in Antalya, Alanya and Mersin on the Mediterranean coast would be opened to earthquake survivors, who have spent nights sleeping outdoors in the winter cold. 

He also offered 10,000 liras ($530) in support to surviving families and said that the government would start rebuilding housing for homeless earthquake survivors within a year.

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