Imperial Valley Press

Turkey probes contractor­s as earthquake deaths pass 33,000


ANTAKYA, Turkey (AP) — 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 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. Ther

mal 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.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca posted a video of a young girl in a navy blue jumper who was found alive. “There is always hope!” he tweeted.

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 when asked if he knew of any others, he said he hadn’t heard anyone for three days. He waved weakly as he was removed on a stretcher as workers applauded and chanted, “God is great!”

German and Turkish workers rescued an 88-yearold 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.

A child was freed over

night in the town of Nizip, in Gaziantep, state- run Anadolu Agency said, while a 32-year woman was found in the ruins of an eight-story building in Antakya and asked for tea when she emerged, according to NTV.

Those were the rare exceptions.

Backhoes and bulldozers prepared a large cemetery in Antakya’s outskirts as trucks and ambulances arrived continuous­ly with black body bags. Hundreds of graves, no more than 3 feet (a meter) apart, were marked with simple wooden planks.

Hatay’s airport reopened Sunday after its runway was repaired, and military and commercial planes ferried in supplies for the region and will take away evacuees.

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.”

U. N. 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.

“You can’t hear someone inside screaming and sit tight. You can’t sit still. You can’t have the heart to hear someone (crying for help) and you do nothing,” he said, sitting above a mound of debris.

Political disputes have held up aid convoys sent from areas of northeast Syria controlled by U.S.-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.

 ?? AP PHOTO/EMRAH GUREL ?? Rescuers work on a collapsed building in Kahramanma­ras, southern Turkey, on Sunday.
AP PHOTO/EMRAH GUREL Rescuers work on a collapsed building in Kahramanma­ras, southern Turkey, on Sunday.

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