Turkey arrests 180 over earthquake building collapses

More than 600 people have been investigated over collapse of 160,000 buildings

A street turned into a dead end by the debris of collapsed buildings in Hatay, Turkey. Getty
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Turkish authorities have arrested 180 people amid a continuing inquiry into building collapses during the February 6 earthquake which killed more than 50,000 people.

The majority of those arrested are contractors and building managers, according to Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who was speaking after a meeting with Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu in the quake-hit city of Diyarbakir.

Ankara opened an investigation after more than 160,000 buildings collapsed across the south of the country, leaving millions homeless in freezing temperatures.

The earthquake killed more than 44,000 people in Turkey and almost 6,000 in neighbouring Syria, where survivors are still struggling to meet basic needs.

Victims are still being extracted from the rubble and the death toll continues to rise.

Almost 80 building contractors are among those in custody, the minister said, as well as 13 people who had made alterations to buildings.

No debris is being removed without searching for evidence, Mr Bozdag said.

He said more than 600 people have been investigated over building collapses following the quake, which was followed by more than 9,000 aftershocks.

A mayor in Gaziantep province was arrested in connection with the investigation, state media reported.

The government will introduce legislation to impose “severe penalties” on people seeking to profit from the earthquake, including renting to displaced families, Mr Bozdag added.

Speaking shortly after the earthquake, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to completely rebuild quake-hit areas within a year, a mammoth task with some cities almost completely reduced to rubble.

On Saturday, the World Food Programme chief said the situation in the city of Antakya was “apocalyptic”.

“Entire neighbourhoods have been flattened; homes destroyed, schools and shops closed; lives torn apart. The scale of devastation here is truly incomprehensible,” said David Beasley.

Mr Erdogan has defended the government's response to the disaster after survivors complained of a slow response by authorities and a complete lack of assistance in some areas.

The government will begin the construction of 200,000 homes in the next two to three months for earthquake survivors, according to the Ministry for Environment, Urbanisation and Climate Change.

None of the buildings will be more than four storeys tall and their distance from fault lines will be calculated, according to the rebuilding plan announced by the ministry.

Authorities will also look to reduce density in previously built-up areas.

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

More than 335,000 tents have been erected in the quake zone and container home settlements are being established at 130 locations, while nearly 530,000 people have been evacuated from affected areas, it added.

But near Antakya, Syrian Omran Alswed and his family are still living with makeshift shelter.

“Our houses are heavily damaged so we have taken shelter here, in a garden in our neighbourhood,” Mr Alswed said.

“The biggest issue is tents. It has been 19 days and we are yet to receive a single tent. We also applied to move into a tent camp but they said the ones nearby are full.”

Millions of Syrians fled across the border to Turkey after civil war broke out in 2011.

In Syria's north-west region, the only remaining rebel-controlled area, families who lost their homes after the earthquake were forced to move out of temporary shelters in schools as classes resumed on Saturday.

Prices of tents in the region have been shooting up amid shortages and now sell for about $200 — four times more than before the earthquake. A solid tent with metal stands can cost up to $400, in a region where more than 90 per cent of the population live in poverty and rely on aid for food and medicine.

With reporting from agencies

Updated: February 26, 2023, 9:20 AM