13 February 2023
Turkish officials are targeting contractors reportedly connected to buildings that collapsed in last week's powerful earthquakes.
The magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes struck nine hours apart in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria. The disaster killed at least 35,000 people. The number of dead is sure to increase as search teams find more bodies.
As anger builds over the slow rescues, officials looked to hold people responsible.
Bekir Bozdag is the Turkish justice minister. He said 131 people were under investigation for their possible responsibility in the construction of buildings that collapsed from the quakes. While the quakes were powerful, many in Turkey blame poor construction for worsening the destruction.
Turkey's construction rules meet current earthquake-engineering requirements. But the rules are rarely enforced. That is why thousands of buildings fell over or collapsed down onto the people inside.
Among those facing criticism were two people arrested in Gaziantep province. They are suspected of cutting down support structures to make extra room in a building that collapsed, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
The justice ministry said three people were arrested, seven others were jailed and another seven were barred from leaving Turkey.
Two contractors were arrested Sunday at Istanbul Airport while trying to leave the country, local media reported. One detained contractor, Yavuz Karakus, said: "My conscience is clear. I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules."
There are more than 34,000 people involved in rescue efforts. On Sunday, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said they were joined by 9,595 people from 74 other countries. More help is on the way, the ministry said.
Turkey's Justice Ministry announced the creation of Earthquake Crimes Investigation units. The units will gather evidence and identify contractors and other people responsible for the construction of failed buildings.
A contractor was detained Friday at Istanbul's airport before he could leave the country. He built a 12-story building in Antakya. When it fell, it killed an untold number of people. He was formally arrested Saturday.
In leaked testimony published by Anadolu, the contractor said the building followed the rules. He said he did not know why it did not stay standing. His lawyer suggested he was a scapegoat – someone who is unfairly blamed for something that others did.
Turkey has long had a policy that permits building owners to pay fines instead of bringing buildings up to code. The government agency responsible for enforcement admitted in 2019 that over half of all buildings in Turkey were not up to code. That accounts for about 13 million apartments.
The arrests could help direct anger towards builders and away from government officials, who permitted poor construction standards to continue.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government is already hurt by economic troubles and high inflation. There will be parliamentary and presidential elections in May.
Rescue crews have been slowed by the widespread damage that has affected roads and airports, making it even harder to move quickly.
Erdogan said the early rescue response was slowed by the damage. The disaster in the worst-affected area of Turkey stretches 500 kilometers in diameter and is home to 13.5 million people. During a visit to the area Saturday, Erdogan said such a tragedy was rare. He has called it the "disaster of the century."
I'm Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
contractor — n. a person who is hired to perform work or to provide goods at a certain price or within a certain time
magnitude — n. a number that shows the power of an earthquake
construction — n. the act or process of building something
province — n. any one of the large parts that some countries are divided into
conscience — n. the part of the mind that makes you aware of your actions as being either morally right or wrong
demolish — v. to destroy
unit — n. a single thing, person, or group that is a part of something larger
story — n. a group of rooms or an area that forms one floor level of a building
testimony — n. something that someone says especially in a court of law while formally promising to tell the truth
response — n. something that is done as a reaction to something else
tragedy — n. a very bad event that causes great sadness and often involves someone's death