As anger swells over quake, Turkey detains building contractors

A local resident walks past a destroyed building in Hatay, Turkey, on Feb 11, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

ADIYAMAN, Turkey – With anger swelling over the government’s slow response to the devastating earthquake on Feb 6 and what critics say was shoddy construction, Turkey has begun detaining building contractors whom it blamed for some collapses that pushed the death toll above 33,000.

Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay said 131 suspects had so far been identified as responsible for the collapse of some of the thousands of buildings flattened in 10 affected provinces.

“We will follow this up meticulously until the necessary judicial process is concluded, especially for buildings that suffered heavy damage and buildings that caused deaths and injuries.”

He said the Justice Ministry had established earthquake crime investigation bureaus in the quake zone provinces to look into deaths and injuries.

Environment Minister Murat Kurum said that 24,921 buildings had collapsed or were heavily damaged in the quake, based on assessments of more than 170,000 buildings.

Across the earthquake zone, residents expressed outrage at what they said were corrupt builders who cut corners to fatten their profits and the government’s granting of “amnesties” to builders who put up apartment complexes that failed to meet the new codes.

Among those detained on Saturday was Mehmet Ertan Akay, builder of a collapsed complex in the hard-hit city of Gaziantep, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter and violation of public construction law, a Turkish news agency reported.

Opposition parties have accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government of not enforcing building regulations and misspending special taxes levied after the last major earthquake in 1999 to make buildings more resistant to quakes.

But Mr Erdogan, who visited Diyarbakir province on Saturday, defended the government’s actions, noting that this earthquake was “three times bigger and more destructive than the 1999 quake, the greatest disaster in our country’s recent memory”.

While Turkey has building codes put in place after the 1999 quake, residents said they were often not applied because contractors could earn more money when they cut corners: mixing the concrete and using cheaper metal bars to gird pillars, among other things.

A million or more people in the affected region are thought to be without shelter in a cold winter, United Nations officials said.

Local and foreign aid workers are pushing to take food, clean water and temporary housing to the affected areas, especially in north-west Syria, which has been largely cut off from outside aid because of political obstacles stemming from a 12-year civil war. NYTIMES, AFP

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