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In a busy Turkish port city, a huge number of people are searching for homes

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Earthquake survivors in Turkey and Syria are still facing huge questions about their future like, where will they live? Three weeks after the quakes brought near total destruction to many towns and neighborhoods, NPR's Peter Kenyon visited Mersin, Turkey. It's a busy port city where a huge population is now searching for homes.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: In a small office in Mersin, real estate agent Samet Celik (ph) says the influx of people needing housing has been overwhelming.

SAMET CELIK: (Through interpreter) Yes, since the first earthquake, they say most of the people evacuated have ended up here, maybe as many as 400,000 people.

KENYON: That number came from Mersin's mayor, Vahap Secer. But what's getting attention at the moment is how some of the city's landlords have responded. Celik says the influx has spurred many landlords to jack up rent prices far above what's allowed by law. Sometimes, he says, the rent doubles or triples during the course of a single day. His colleague, Kubra Kabakli (ph), says this is coming on top of a previous housing crisis in Mersin sparked by earlier floods of migrants who wound up here after fleeing conflict at home.

KUBRA KABAKLI: (Through interpreter) Before, we had a housing crisis, with migrants coming here from Afghanistan, Syria and other places. So there was a lot of density in the population already. Now, with the earthquake victims, it's gotten much worse. It's impossible to accommodate everyone.

KENYON: A couple of blocks from the real estate office, I ran into the Dogan (ph) family, 53-year-old Kasim (ph), his wife, Ozden (ph), and two sons. They're from Malatya, a city that suffered huge damage in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake and the major aftershocks that followed. Kasim Dogan says their state-built house was still standing after the first earthquake did heavy damage to their city nearby. But they immediately decided to come to Mersin, where there's less damage and fewer aftershocks. When asked how long he thinks they might be away, he says he's not sure. He makes a living repairing balconies. But he would feel embarrassed to charge people right now.

KASIM DOGAN: (Through interpreter) We don't know what we're going to do because even if I go back to my house, my job is to repair balconies. What am I going to do, ask money from people to fix their balconies? I don't know if the business is going to continue. But if living here means starting from scratch, I don't know if we can do that either.

KENYON: But Dogan's son, Umutcan (ph), a 27-year-old civil engineer, seems to have no doubts about the future.

UMUTCAN DOGAN: (Through interpreter) We are going to build again. Of course, we are going to build it again.

KENYON: How the reconstruction is done, of course, is likely to be closely scrutinized. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has been under fire over allegations that contractors were allowed to skip important safety measures designed to help buildings in earthquake-prone areas resist the shock of a quake. Kasim Dogan says the controversy reminds him of a job he once had working on construction of a new building.

K DOGAN: (Through interpreter) I was working on a new building, but the quality of the materials wasn't very good. And then this guy drives up in a new BMW. I asked the owners of the building, who's that guy? And they said, oh, that's our contractor.

KENYON: At an aid storage area, a volunteer takes us to a warehouse crammed with donations, mattresses stacked against one wall, boxes of food and other supplies piled high against another. He says it feels like he's in constant motion.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER: (Through interpreter) They're organizing by supply and demand. Baby food, baby clothes are important. Most needed now are hygiene products, laundry soap, food and baby products.

KENYON: The warehouse usually empties out every three days as aid gets sent to the earthquake zone. And then it fills right back up again with more donations as Turkey responds to its worst earthquake disaster in more than a century.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Mersin, Turkey.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.