Turkey is targeting 134 contractors and others for alleged shoddy and illegal construction methods even as rescuers retrieve more bodies from collapsed buildings after a pair of earthquakes last week killed more than 33,000 people and injured another 92,000.
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag has vowed to punish anyone responsible for the collapse of thousands of buildings as the quakes last Monday devastated large portions of southeastern Turkey and northern Syria. He said Sunday that to date three people had been arrested pending trial, seven people detained and seven others barred from leaving the country.
Even as authorities assessed responsibility for the collapsed buildings, thousands of rescue workers, against long odds, continued their search for survivors, and a handful of people were found alive. Thermal cameras were used to probe the piles of concrete and metal, while rescuers demanded silence so that they could hear any voices of the trapped.
A pregnant woman was rescued Sunday 157 hours after the quakes in the hard-hit province of Hatay, state-broadcaster TRT said.
HaberTurk television broadcast the live rescue of a 6-year-old boy removed from the debris of his home in Adiyaman. The child was wrapped in a space blanket and put into an ambulance. An exhausted rescuer removed his surgical mask and took deep breaths as a group of women could be heard crying in joy.
Prosecutors have begun gathering samples of buildings for evidence of the materials that were used in their construction. The quakes were powerful, but victims and technical experts are blaming bad construction — and lax enforcement of building codes — for worsening the devastation.
Two contractors reportedly attempting to leave the country for Georgia were detained by authorities Sunday at Istanbul Airport. The contractors were held responsible for the alleged shoddy construction of several collapsed buildings in Adiyaman, the private DHA news agency and other media reported.
One of the arrested contractors, Yavuz Karakus, told reporters, “My conscience is clear. I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules,” DHA reported.
Two more people were arrested in Gaziantep province suspected of having cut down columns to make extra room in a building that collapsed, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
A day earlier, Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced the planned establishment of “Earthquake Crimes Investigation” bureaus. The bureaus would gather evidence, identify contractors and others behind the construction of the collapsed buildings to determine if violations occurred. Turkey has building codes, but they are rarely enforced.
Eyup Muhcu, president of the Chamber of Architects of Turkey, told The Associated Press that many of the buildings that fell were built with inferior materials and methods, without regard for Turkey’s construction codes.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Saturday that the earthquake was the “disaster of the century.
David Alexander, a professor of emergency planning at University College London told the AP, “This is a disaster caused by shoddy construction, not by an earthquake.”
Suzan van der Lee, a seismologist and professor at Northwestern University, told VOA Turkish’s Ozlem Tinaz, “Earthquakes like this are going to happen… we just don’t know when. So, the best thing to do is to be as prepared as possible, buildings that are as safe as possible and know exactly what to do when you feel the ground shake.”
The VOA Turkish Service contributed to this report, which includes some information from The Associated Press.