Turkey-Syria earthquake: Arrest warrants issued over collapsed buildings, death toll at 33,000

Situation in northwest Syria, ravaged by more than decade of civil war, increasingly desperate, says UN

Turkish authorities have issued more than 100 arrest warrants over collapsed buildings, amid warnings that the death toll from the earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria could double from the current tally of 33,000.

State media reported that at least 12 people were in custody, including contractors, architects and engineers connected to some of the tens of thousands of buildings destroyed or seriously damaged in Monday’s 7.8- and 7.6-magnitude quakes.

The situation in stricken northwest Syria, already ravaged by more than a decade of civil war, is increasingly desperate, the UN said, denouncing an international failure to get humanitarian aid to where it was most needed.

A fresh UN convoy of 10 trucks carrying urgent supplies of plastic sheeting, blankets, and mattresses for northwest Syria arrived via Turkey on Sunday, but the UN’s relief chief, Martin Griffiths, said far more was needed for millions of people whose homes had been destroyed.


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As public anger continued to mount in Turkey at the scale of the destruction and the slow pace of rescue efforts, the arrests are likely to be seen as an attempt by president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces tough elections in May, to deflect blame.

Turkey’s vice-president, Fuat Oktay, said on Sunday that authorities had identified 131 people suspected of being responsible for the collapse of some of the thousands of buildings flattened, and that detention orders had been issued for 113 of them.

“We will follow this up meticulously until the necessary judicial process is concluded, especially for buildings that suffered heavy damage and caused deaths and injuries,” Oktay said. Special investigation units have been set up in the 10 provinces affected.

The environment minister, Murat Kurum, said that based on an initial assessment of more than 170,000 buildings across the south of the country, 24,921 had either collapsed or were heavily damaged by the quake.

Opposition leaders have long accused Erdoğan’s government of not enforcing building regulations and of failing to account for the proceeds of a levy imposed after the 1999 İzmit earthquake to ensure apartment blocks and offices were more quake-resistant.

The president has accused his critics of lying and in remarks so far has seemed to blame fate for the disaster, saying such catastrophes “have always happened” and are “part of destiny’s plan”. He has pledged to start rebuilding within weeks.

Erdoğan has acknowledged problems with the relief effort, partly attributable to badly damaged transport links, but said the situation had been brought under control. He has called for solidarity and condemned “negative” politicking.

One of those detained, Mehmet Yasar Coskun, a contractor who built an upmarket 12-storey residential complex in Antakya that collapsed in the quakes, was seized at Istanbul airport as he was about to board a flight for Montenegro.

The residential block, which contained 249 apartments, was completed only a decade ago. Coskun told prosecutors he did not know why it had collapsed. “We fulfilled all procedures set out in legislation,” he told the state news agency, Anadolu.

Griffiths described the quake as the “worst event in 100 years in this region” and said he expected the death toll to at least double. The twin tremors rank as the world’s seventh deadliest natural disaster this century.

Officials and medics said on Sunday that 29,605 people had been reported dead in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria, bringing the confirmed combined total in both countries to 33,179. The World Health Organisation estimates up to 26 million people have been affected in both countries. – Guardian