© Reuters. Arsin and his father take their belongings out of their destroyed apartment following the deadly earthquake in Antakya, Hatay province, Turkey, February 20, 2023. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopezh
By Ece Toksabay and Daren Butler
ANTAKYA/ISTANBUL, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkey has arrested 184 people suspected of being responsible for building collapses in this month’s earthquakes and investigations are expanding, a minister said on Saturday, as that anger simmers over what many see as corrupt construction practices.
Overnight, the death toll from the earthquakes, the most powerful of which struck in the middle of the night on February 6, rose to 44,128 in Turkey. This 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 badly damaged in Turkey by the disaster, the worst in the country’s modern history.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said more than 600 people had been investigated in connection with collapsed buildings, at a press conference in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir of the country, which was one of the 10 provinces affected by the disaster.
Those officially arrested and taken into custody include 79 building contractors, 74 people who bear legal responsibility for buildings, 13 owners and 18 people who made alterations to buildings, he said.
Many Turks have expressed outrage over what they see as corrupt building practices and flawed urban developments.
President Tayyip Erdogan, who faces the biggest political challenge of his two-decade rule in elections scheduled for June, has promised accountability.
In Gaziantep province, the mayor of Nurdagi district – which belongs to Erdogan’s ruling AK party – was among those arrested in connection with investigations into the collapsed buildings, state broadcaster TRT Haber and d other media.
‘BREAK MY HEART’
Nearly three weeks after the disaster, there is no definitive toll in Turkey and authorities have not said how many bodies may still be trapped under the rubble.
A firefighter helping clear rubble in the hard-hit city of Antakya said body parts were being found daily.
“It’s very difficult. You can’t tell a man to keep working if he lifts a person’s arm,” said the firefighter, who declined to be identified.
Nearly two million people left homeless by the disaster are sheltering in tents, containers and other facilities in the region and other parts of the country, Turkey’s disaster management authority said.
More than 335,000 tents have been erected in the quake area and container dwellings are being established in 130 locations, while nearly 530,000 people have been evacuated from the affected areas, he added.
But near Antakya, Omran Alswed, a Syrian, and his family are still living in makeshift shelters.
“Our houses are badly damaged, so we took refuge here, in a garden in our neighborhood,” Alswed said.
“The biggest problem is the tents. It’s been 19 days and we haven’t received a single tent yet. We also asked to move into a tent camp, but they said the ones nearby were full” , did he declare.
The only remaining Armenian village in Turkey, Vakifli, was badly affected by the earthquake, with 30 of its 40 stone houses badly damaged.
“Vakifli is all we have, the only Armenian village in Turkey. It is our home. To see it like this breaks my heart,” said Masis, a 67-year-old retired jeweler who has returned to his town. native after spending 17 years. years in Istanbul.
Turkey and Armenia are still at odds over the 1.5 million people Armenia says were killed in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire, modern Turkey’s predecessor. Armenia says this constitutes genocide.
Turkey admits that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I, but disputes the figures and denies that this was systematic.