Eight held over Turkey girl dorm fire as anger grows
Anger growing over possible negligence
Turkey yesterday detained eight people over a deadly fire at a dormitory for schoolgirls that left 12 people dead, as anger grew over possible negligence that caused the tragedy. The blaze, which officials said was likely caused by an electrical fault, tore through the building’s wooden interior on Tuesday night as panicked youngsters tried to jump from windows to safety.
Some officials suggested many of the victims were killed on the top floors of the dormitory in the southern region of Adana after they were unable to open a fire door to flee the flames. “We will learn lessons from this and we will do what needs to be done to ensure this never happens again,” said Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz, adding that an inspection in June had not uncovered any issues. In Ankara, Turkish police used tear gas to disperse a protest outside the education ministry by activists angered that the devastated dormitory was managed by an influential religious sect.
DNA tests needed
Those detained as part of the investigation into accusations of “causing death by negligence” include the manager of the dormitory in the Aladag district of Adana, the Dogan news agency said. Five people were detained initially while three other suspects were being treated for wounds in hospital. A total of 14 arrest warrants have been issued.
Dogan said most of the dead would be identified using DNA tests, in a sign that the victims were too badly burned to be identified visually. Ten of those killed were schoolchildren aged up to 14, while the fire also claimed the life of a member of the teaching staff. The four-year-old daughter of the dormitory manager being held by the police also died, Dogan said. Twenty-four people including 16 children were injured, Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak told a press conference.
Fire doors shut?
Officials said the fire was likely caused by an electrical fault which then spread rapidly due to the dormitory’s wooden structures and carpeted floors. Adana governor Mahmut Demirtas said Tuesday some of the schoolgirls were injured after jumping out of windows to escape the flames. He added that none of those injured was in a serious condition. Adana city mayor Huseyin Sozlu told Turkish television Tuesday that the dormitory’s fire door was locked and that most of the dead were recovered from near that exit.
But Kaynak said that according to initial findings, the door had been unlocked. “There’s even a curtain hanging near the exit door undamaged,” he said, but added that the situation would become clearer after an investigation. The building is assessed twice a year by the education ministry, Kaynak said, adding that it was last checked in June. The Turkish government banned the broadcast of images of the catastrophe’s aftermath, a common measure after such disasters.
‘A shame and a crime’
The head of the Egitim-Is education union Mehmet Balik said the dormitory belonged to a religious Sunni Muslim sect in Aladag known as the Suleymanci. The girls had been sleeping there as the state-run dormitory had been demolished ahead of expansion works, Dogan reported. Media reports said the Suleymanci accommodation was the girls’ only option in the area.
The Suleymanci is one of the biggest religious communities in Turkey and is renowned for having a major influence in politics. The proKurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) blamed the government for failing to properly fund education accommodation, forcing poor families to use accommodation run by religious communities. “Such fires are not the first and will not be the last so long as the government’s policy and irresponsibility remain in place,” it said in a statement.
“It is a shame and crime to condemn our children to uncontrolled dorms and any form of abuse.” But ruling party spokesman Yasin Aktay emphasized that “the fact the building belonged to a religious community” could not be accepted as the sole reason for the fire. “It is too early now to make links but if there is such a scenario, if there is such neglect, it will not be ignored,” he said. — AFP