Turkey Probes Contractors As Death Toll Tops 33 000

Turkish authorities are targeting contractors allegedly linked with buildings that collapsed in the powerful Feb. 6 earthquakes as rescuers found more survivors in the rubble Sunday, including a pregnant woman and two children, in the disaster that killed over 33,000 people.

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 was certain to increase as search teams find more bodies.

As despair bred rage at the agonizingly 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.

Turkey’s construction codes meet current earthquake-engineering standards, at least on paper, but they are rarely enforced, explaining why thousands of buildings toppled over or pancaked down onto the people inside.

Among those facing scrutiny were two people arrested in Gaziantep province on suspicion of cutting down columns to make extra room in a building that collapsed, the state-run Anadolu Agency said. The justice ministry said three people were under arrest pending trial, seven were detained and another seven were barred from leaving Turkey.

Two contractors held responsible for the destruction of several buildings in Adiyaman were arrested Sunday at Istanbul Airport while trying to leave the country, the private DHA news agency and other media reported.

One detained contractor, Yavuz Karakus, told reporters: “My conscience is clear. I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules,” DHA quoted him as saying.

Rescuers reported finding more survivors amid increasingly long odds. Thermal cameras were used on piles of concrete and metal as crews demanded silence so they could hear those trapped.

In hard-hit Hatay province, a 50-year-old woman who appeared badly injured was carried out by crews in the town of Iskenderun. Similar rescues in the province saved two other women, one of them pregnant, according to broadcasters TRT and HaberTurk.

HaberTurk showed a 6-year-old boy from his wrecked home in Adiyaman. An exhausted rescuer removed his surgical mask and took deep breaths as a group of women cried in joy.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca posted a video of a young girl in a navy blue jumper who was found alive. “There is always hope!” he tweeted.

Rescuers in Antakya, elsewhere in Hatay province, pulled a man in his late 20s or 30s from the rubble, saying he was one of nine still trapped in the building. But when asked if he knew of any others, he said he hadn’t heard anyone for three days. He waved weakly as he was removed on a stretcher as workers applauded and chanted, “God is great!”

German and Turkish workers rescued an 88-year-old in Kirikhan, German news agency dpa reported. Italian and Turkish rescuers found a 35-year-old man in Antakya who appeared unscathed, private NTV television reported. AP

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