Turkey broadens investigation into building collapses as earthquake count surpasses 50,000

  • Justice Minister says 184 people have been arrested as investigation widens
  • The death toll in Turkey and Syria exceeds 50,000
  • According to the fire service, body parts are found daily in the rubble

ANTAKYA/ISTANBUL, Turkey, Feb. 25 (Reuters) – Turkey has arrested 184 people suspected of responsibility for building collapses in this month’s earthquakes and the investigation is being expanded, a minister said on Saturday, as anger simmers over what many consider corrupt building practices.

Overnight, the death toll from the earthquakes, the most powerful of which struck in the dead of night on February 6, rose to 44,128 in Turkey. That brought the total death toll in Turkey and neighboring Syria to more than 50,000.

More than 160,000 buildings containing 520,000 apartments collapsed or were severely damaged in Turkey by the disaster, the worst in the country’s modern history.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said more than 600 people have been investigated in connection with collapsed buildings, at a press conference in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, one of 10 provinces affected by the disaster.

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Those formally arrested and taken into custody include 79 construction contractors, 74 people legally responsible for buildings, 13 property owners and 18 people who made alterations to buildings, he said.

Many Turks have expressed outrage at what they see as corrupt building practices and flawed urban development.

President Tayyip Erdogan, who faces the biggest political challenge of his two decades of rule in elections scheduled for June, has pledged accountability.

In Gaziantep province, the mayor of Nurdagi district – who is from Erdogan’s ruling AK party – was among those arrested as part of the investigation into collapsed buildings, state broadcaster TRT Haber and other media reported.


Nearly three weeks after the disaster, there is no definitive death toll in Turkey and officials have not said how many bodies are still trapped under the rubble.

A firefighter who helped clear the rubble in the hard-hit city of Antakya said body parts are being found daily.

“It’s very difficult. You can’t tell a man to keep working if he’s sticking someone’s arm out,” said the firefighter, who declined to be identified.

Nearly two million people left homeless by the disaster are being housed in tents, container homes and other facilities in the region and other parts of the country, Turkey’s disaster relief authority said.

More than 335,000 tents have been set up in the earthquake zone and container homes are being built at 130 sites, while nearly 530,000 people have been evacuated from affected areas, it added.

But near Antakya, Omran Alswed, a Syrian, and his family still live in makeshift shelters.

“Our houses were badly damaged, so we took shelter here, in a garden near us,” says Alswed.

“The biggest problem is tents. It’s been 19 days and we haven’t received a single tent yet. We also applied to move to a tent camp, but they said the nearby tents are full,” he said.

Turkey’s only remaining ethnic Armenian village, Vakifli, was badly hit by the earthquake, with 30 of its 40 stone houses severely damaged.

“Vakifli is all we have, the only Armenian village in Turkey. It is our home. It breaks my heart to see it like this,” said Masis, a 67-year-old retired jeweller, who returned to his hometown after 17 years. year in Istanbul.

Turkey and Armenia still disagree over the 1.5 million people Armenia claims were murdered in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey. Armenia speaks of genocide.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire during World War I died in clashes with Ottoman forces, but disputes the figures and denies that it was systematic.

Written by Tom Perry Edited by Helen Popper

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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