Turkey expands investigation into building collapses as earthquake death toll exceeds 50,000

Syrian artists Aziz Asmar and Salam Hamed paint street art on the rubble of damaged buildings in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, in the rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 22, 2023. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

Turkey has arrested 184 individuals accused of being responsible for the collapse of buildings during this month's earthquakes, and investigations are expanding, a minister said on Saturday, as fury over what many view as fraudulent building practices continues to rise.

Overnight, the death toll in Turkey grew to 44,128 due to the earthquakes, the most intense of which struck in the middle of the night on February 6. This brought the total fatalities in Turkey and neighbouring Syria to almost 50,000.

The greatest disaster in Turkey's modern history it destroyed or badly damaged more than 160,000 buildings and 520,000 units.

During a news conference in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, one of 10 provinces affected by the disaster, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag stated that more than 600 people had been probed about the fallen buildings.

Among those formally arrested and placed in custody, he added, were 79 construction contractors, 74 individuals with legal responsibility for buildings, 13 property owners, and 18 individuals who had altered properties.

Several Turks have voiced anger about what they perceive to be fraudulent building methods and defective urban developments.

President Tayyip Erdogan, who faces the most significant electoral challenge of his two-decade rule in the June elections, has pledged responsibility.

The mayor of the Nurdagi district in the province of Gaziantep, a member of Erdogan's ruling AK Party, was among those arrested as part of investigations into collapsed structures, according to state broadcaster TRT Haber and other media outlets.

'Breaking my heart'

After nearly three weeks, Turkey still has no final death toll, and officials have not disclosed how many people may still be buried beneath the wreckage.

A firefighter attempting to remove the rubble in the devastated city of Antakya reported that body parts were discovered daily.

"That is quite challenging. You cannot instruct a man to continue working if he is removing someone's arm, "The firefighter, who declined to identify himself, stated.

Over two million people displaced by the tragedy are being sheltered in tents, container homes, and other facilities in the region and elsewhere in Turkey, according to the country's disaster management authorities.

Over 335,000 tents have been built in the earthquake zone, while container housing communities have been established at 130 locations. Over 530,000 people have been evacuated from impacted areas, according to the report.

Omran Alswed and his family continue to reside in improvised shelters near Antakya.

Alswed stated, "Our houses are heavily damaged, so we have taken shelter here in a garden in our neighbourhood,"

"Tents are the primary problem. We have waited for 19 days without receiving a single tent. We also applied to move into a nearby tent camp, but they informed us that they are all full, "he claimed.

Vakifli, the last remaining Armenian village in Turkey, was severely affected by the earthquake, with 30 of its 40 stone buildings severely damaged.

"Vakifli is our only option, being the sole Armenian village in Turkey. We call it home. Seeing it in such a state breaks my heart. "After 17 years in Istanbul, Masis, a 67-year-old retired jeweller, relocated back to his birthplace.

Turkey and Armenia remain at odds over Armenia's claim that the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner to contemporary Turkey, murdered 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. Armenia considers this to be genocide.

Turkey acknowledges that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were slain in clashes with Ottoman soldiers during the First World War but disputes the numbers and argues that the killings were systematic.

Publish : 2023-02-26 10:13:00

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