The Turkish government has arrested and started legal proceedings against contractors allegedly linked with buildings that collapsed in the deadly February 6 earthquakes which has now claimed over 33,000 lives in Turkey and neighboring Syria.
The death toll from the magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 quakes that struck nine hours apart in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria rose to 33,185 and is certain to increase as search teams find more bodies.
The death toll in Syria?s northwestern rebel-held region has reached 2,166, according to the rescue group, the White Helmets. The overall death toll in Syria stood at 3,553 on Saturday, although the 1,387 deaths reported for government-held parts of the country hadn’t been updated in days. Turkey’s death toll was 29,605 as of Sunday.
Rescuers found more survivors in the rubble Sunday February 12, including a pregnant woman and two children,
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 increasing death rate from the quakes.
Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced the establishment of Earthquake Crimes Investigation bureaus to identify contractors and others responsible for building works. It would gather evidence; instruct experts including architects, geologists and engineers; and check building permits and occupation permits.
A contractor was detained on Friday at Istanbul airport before he could leave the country. He built a luxury 12-story building called Ronesans Rezidans in Antakya, and when it fell, it killed an untold number. He was formally arrested Saturday.
In leaked testimony published by Anadolu, the man said the building followed regulations and he did not know why it didn’t stay standing. His lawyer suggested his client was a scapegoat.
Under programs that allowed building owners to pay fines instead of bringing them up to code, the government agency responsible for enforcement acknowledged in 2019 that over half of all buildings in Turkey ? accounting for some 13 million apartments? were not in compliance.
There are 34,717 Turkish personnel involved in rescue efforts according to AP news. On Sunday, Turkey?s Foreign Ministry said they were joined by 9,595 personnel from 74 countries, with more on the way.