The Hamilton Spectator
Turkey probes contractors as quake deaths pass 33,000
Many are blaming faulty construction for multiplying the devastation
Turkish authorities are targeting contractors allegedly linked with buildings that collapsed in the powerful Feb. 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 agonizingly 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, explaining why thousands of buildings toppled over or pancaked down onto the people inside.
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 arrested, seven others were detained and another seven were barred from leaving Turkey.
Two contractors held responsible for the destruction of 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 as crews demanded silence to hear those trapped.
There are 34,717 Turkish personnel involved in rescue efforts. On Sunday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said they were 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.