Turkish authorities are targeting contractors allegedly linked with buildings that collapsed in the powerful February 6 earthquakes as rescuers found more survivors in the rubble on Sunday, including a pregnant woman and two children, in the disaster that killed more than 33,000 people.
The death toll from the magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 quakes that struck nine hours apart in south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria rose to 33,179 and was certain to increase as search teams find more bodies.
As despair bred rage at the agonisingly slow rescues, the focus turned to assigning blame
Turkish justice minister Bekir Bozdag said 131 people were under investigation for their alleged responsibility in the construction of buildings that failed to withstand the quakes.
While the quakes were powerful, many in Turkey blame faulty construction for multiplying the devastation.
Even though Turkey has, on paper, construction codes that meet current earthquake-engineering standards, they are rarely enforced, explaining why thousands of buildings slumped on to their side or pancaked downwards on to residents.Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said late on Saturday that warrants have been issued for the detention of 131 people suspected to being responsible for collapsed buildings.
Turkey’s justice minister has vowed to punish anyone responsible, and prosecutors have begun gathering samples of buildings for evidence on materials used in constructions.
The quakes were powerful, but victims, experts and people across Turkey are blaming bad construction for multiplying the devastation.
On Sunday, authorities in the province of Gaziantep arrested two people who are suspected of having cut down columns to make extra room in a building that collapsed, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.
The bureaux would aim to identify contractors and others responsible for building works, gather evidence, instruct experts including architects, geologists and engineers, and check building permits and occupation permits.
A building contractor was detained by authorities at Istanbul airport on Friday before he could board a flight out of the country.
He was the contractor of a luxury 12-storey building in the historic city of Antakya, in Hatay province, the collapse of which left an untold number of dead.
The detentions could help direct public anger toward builders and contractors, deflecting attention away from local and state officials who allowed the apparently sub-standard constructions to go ahead.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, already burdened by an economic downturn and high inflation, faces parliamentary and presidential elections in May.
Survivors, many of whom lost loved ones, have also turned their frustration and anger on authorities.
Rescue crews have been overwhelmed by the widespread damage which has affected roads and airports, making it even more difficult to race against the clock.
Mr Erdogan acknowledged earlier in the week that the initial response has been hampered by the extensive damage.
He said the worst-affected area is 310 miles (500km) in diameter and was home to 13.5 million people.
During a tour of quake-damaged cities on Saturday, he said a disaster on this scale is rare, and again referred to it as the “disaster of the century”.
Rescuers, including crews from other countries, continued to search the rubble in the hope of finding additional survivors who could yet beat increasingly long odds.