Turkey assesses huge losses after airport fire

Police increased security at Istanbul’s Atatürk International airport on Thursday as authorities and companies began to assess the huge damages caused by a raging fire and tried to determine what caused it.

A hard-line Kurdish militant group has claimed responsibility in an e-mail to a pro-Kurdish news agency in The Netherlands, but authorities would not comment on the claim, saying an investigation is under way.

The blaze quickly burned much of the airport’s cargo section to the ground, and officials said they are working on contingency plans, including taking on freight at the city’s other airport on the Asian side of the city, and in the town of Corlu, about 90km to the west.

Water-bombing planes made more than 140 sorties over the smouldering wreck, and firefighters battled the blaze for five hours. They had been unable to assess damages Wednesday because the area remained too hot to enter, and a team of firefighters worked through the night to cool it.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons Organisation, a hard-line group linked to the main Kurdish guerrilla group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), said it started the blaze, according to the Firat news agency’s website on Wednesday. Firat often receives information from Kurdish rebel leaders.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons have claimed eight bombings in Istanbul this year, and recently said tourism and economic targets are among the group’s priorities.
Previous bombings left two dead and 47 injured.

Thick, black smoke from the airport blaze could be seen from 10km away and forced the closure of one of the airport’s runways, causing flight delays. Three people suffered smoke inhalation, but no one was killed, authorities said.

The fire destroyed cargo including textile products and gold shipments, officials said. They said they will need more time to estimate the damage, but that it will total millions of dollars.

The cargo operation of Turkish Airlines, which was in a separate section of the airport, was unaffected by the blaze. Most other airlines and carriers will be affected. Turkish Airlines planes could be seen landing even as the fire raged.

Workers said the entire structure, about 150 000 square metres, was in flames within five minutes. About 2 000 workers fled in the panic after the fire.

Kurdish militants have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey since 1984, in a fight that has left more than 37 000 dead. The group appears to be a radical offshoot of the PKK, which does most of its fighting in the country’s Kurdish-majority south-east.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons have vowed to bring the fight to Turkey’s cities.—Sapa-AP

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