Turkey probes contractors as earthquake deaths pass 33,000

PTI, Feb 13, 2023, 8:04 AM IST

Image credit: AP / File

Antokya: Turkish authorities are targeting contractors allegedly linked with buildings that collapsed in the powerful February 6 earthquakes as rescuers found more survivors in the rubble Sunday, including a pregnant woman and two children, in the disaster that killed over 33,000 people.

The death toll from the magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 quakes that struck nine hours apart in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria rose to 33,185 and was certain to increase as search teams find more bodies.

As despair bred rage at the agonisingly slow rescues, the focus turned to assigning blame.

Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said 131 people were under investigation for their alleged responsibility in the construction of buildings that failed to withstand the quakes. While the quakes were powerful, many in Turkey blame faulty construction for multiplying the devastation.

Turkey’s construction codes meet current earthquake-engineering standards, at least on paper, but they are rarely enforced.

Among those facing scrutiny were two people arrested in Gaziantep province on suspicion of cutting down columns to make extra room in a building that collapsed, the state-run Anadolu Agency said. The justice ministry said three people were under arrest pending trial, seven were detained and another seven were barred from leaving Turkey.

Two contractors held responsible for the destruction of several buildings in Adiyaman were arrested Sunday at Istanbul Airport while trying to leave the country, the private DHA news agency and other media reported.

One detained contractor, Yavuz Karakus, told DHA, ”My conscience is clear. I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules.” Rescuers reported finding more survivors amid increasingly long odds. Thermal cameras were used on piles of concrete and metal as crews demanded silence so they could hear those trapped.

In hard-hit Hatay province, a 50-year-old woman who appeared badly injured was carried out by crews in the town of Iskenderun. Similar rescues in the province saved two other women, one of them pregnant, according to broadcasters TRT and HaberTurk.

HaberTurk showed a 6-year-old boy rescued from his wrecked home in Adiyaman. An exhausted rescuer removed his surgical mask and took deep breaths as a group of women cried in joy.

Rescuers in Antakya, elsewhere in Hatay province, pulled a man in his late 20s or 30s from the rubble, saying he was one of nine still trapped in the building. But he hadn’t heard anyone for three days. German and Turkish workers rescued an 88-year-old in Kirikhan, German news agency dpa reported. Italian and Turkish rescuers found a 35-year-old man in Antakya who appeared unscathed, private NTV television reported.

There are 34,717 Turkish search-and-rescue personnel involved in rescue efforts. On Sunday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said they’ve been joined by 9,595 personnel from 74 countries, with more on the way.

In the Syrian capital of Damascus, the head of the World Health Organization warned that the pain will ripple forward, calling the disaster an ”unfolding tragedy that’s affecting millions.” ”The compounding crises of conflict, COVID, cholera, economic decline, and now the earthquake have taken an unbearable toll,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Tedros said WHO experts were waiting to enter northwestern Syria ”where we have been told the impact is even worse.” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, visiting the Turkish-Syrian border Sunday, said Syrians are ”looking for international help that hasn’t arrived.” ”We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria. They rightly feel abandoned,” he said, adding, ”My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as fast as we can.”

In the town of Atareb, in opposition-run northern Aleppo province, Abdel-Haseeb Abdel-Raheem returned Sunday to his ruined four-story building to try to salvage any valuables but could find only blankets, pillows and some clothes. His aunt and her husband died there, but their three children survived.

With no international rescue efforts in the war-battered region, the 34-year-old had to recover the bodies himself.

Political disputes have held up aid convoys sent from areas of northeast Syria controlled by US-backed Kurdish groups to those controlled by the Syrian government and by Turkish-backed rebels who have fought with the Kurdish groups over the years.

A UN aid convoy sent to northwestern Syria through government-held areas was postponed due to obstruction from Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, an al-Qaida affiliated group ruling Idlib province, a UN spokesperson told The Associated Press.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced the establishment of Earthquake Crimes Investigation bureaus to identify contractors and others responsible for building works. It would gather evidence; instruct experts including architects, geologists and engineers; and check building permits and occupation permits Due to government programs that allowed building owners to pay fines instead of bringing buildings up to code, the government agency responsible for enforcement acknowledged in 2019 that over half of all buildings in Turkey — accounting for some 13 million apartments— were not in compliance. (AP)

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