Desperation also fueled anger over the agonizingly slow rescue efforts as attention turned to who was to blame for people in the earthquake-prone region not being better prepared.
ANTAKYA, Hatay — Turkish justices have sentenced more than 130 people allegedly involved in shoddy and illegal construction methods as rescuers free more survivors, including a pregnant woman and two young children, six days after a pair of earthquakes collapsed thousands of buildings.
The death toll from Monday’s earthquakes, which struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, rose to 33,179 on Sunday and is likely to rise as search teams find more bodies under the rubble. Authorities said more than 92,600 people were affected by the disaster.
As despair also fueled anger at the agonizingly slow rescue efforts, attention turned to who was to blame for the ill-preparedness of people in the earthquake-prone region, which includes an area of Syria that was already suffering from years of civil war.
Although Turkey has building codes on paper that meet current seismic engineering standards, they are too rarely performedexplaining why thousands of buildings collapsed on their sides or fell on residents.
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said Sunday that 134 people are under investigation for their alleged responsibility for building buildings that failed to withstand earthquakes, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported. He said that three people were arrested before the trial, seven people were detained, and another seven were banned from leaving the country.
Bozdag promised to punish all those responsible, and the prosecutor’s office began to collect samples of the buildings for evidence of the materials used in the construction. The aftershocks were powerful, but victims, experts and people across Turkey blame poor construction for multiplying the destruction.
Istanbul airport authorities on Sunday detained two contractors responsible for the demolition of several buildings in Adiyaman, the private news agency DHA and other media reported. The couple was reportedly on their way to Georgia.
One of the arrested contractors, Yavuz Karakus, told reporters on Sunday: “My conscience is clear. I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules,” the DHA agency reported.
Two more people were arrested in Gaziantep province on suspicion of sawing columns to make room for a collapsed building, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
A day earlier, the Ministry of Justice of Turkey announced the planned establishment of the office “Investigation of crimes related to the earthquake”. The bureau will be directed to identify contractors and others responsible for construction work, gather evidence, instruct experts, including architects, geologists and engineers, and review building permits and occupation permits.
The construction contractor was detained by authorities on Friday at Istanbul airport before he could board a flight out of the country. He built a luxurious 12-story building called Ronesans Rezidans in the historic city of Antakya, Hatay Province. When it failed, it left countless dead. He was officially arrested on Saturday.
In leaked testimony published by Anadolu, the man said the building complied with regulations and he did not know the building could not withstand earthquakes. His lawyer suggested the public was looking for a scapegoat.
The arrests can help direct public anger at builders and contractors, drawing attention away from local and state officials who have allowed apparently shoddy construction. The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, already burdened by an economic downturn and high inflation, Parliamentary and presidential elections await in May.
Those who survived, many of whom lost loved ones, took their frustration and anger out on the authorities as well. Rescuers were stunned by the widespread destruction of roads and airports, making the race against time even more difficult.
Earlier this week, Erdogan acknowledged that the initial response was hampered by extensive damage. He said the worst-hit area was 500 kilometers (310 miles) in diameter and home to 13.5 million people in Turkey. During a tour of quake-hit towns on Saturday, Erdogan said a disaster of this magnitude was rare and again called it the “disaster of the century.”
Rescuers, including crews from other countries, continued to search the debris in hopes of finding additional survivors who could overcome the mounting odds. Thermal imaging cameras scanned piles of concrete and metal, and rescuers demanded silence to hear the voices of those trapped.
A pregnant woman was rescued on Sunday 157 hours after an earthquake struck the hard-hit Hatay province, state broadcaster TRT reported.
The HaberTurk TV channel broadcast live the rescue of a 6-year-old boy who was pulled from the rubble of his home in Adiyaman. The child was wrapped in a space blanket and placed in an ambulance. The exhausted rescuer removed his surgical mask and took a deep breath as a group of women could be heard crying with joy.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca released a video of the rescued young girl in a dark blue jumper. “Good news at the 150th hour. Recently rescued by the crews. There is always hope!” he wrote on Twitter.
Rescue workers pulled the man to Antakya several hours after hearing voices from under the rubble. Workers said the man, who was in his 20s and 30s, was one of nine still in the building. But when asked if he knew any other survivors, he said he hadn’t heard voices in three days.
The man waved weakly as he was passed hand in hand on a stretcher, while the workers applauded and chanted, “God is great!”
A team of German and Turkish rescuers rescued an 88-year-old woman alive from the rubble in Kirikhan, the German news agency dpa reported. The efforts of a team of Italian and Turkish rescuers also paid off when they pulled a 35-year-old man from the wreckage in the heavily damaged city of Antakya. Private television NTV reported that he was taken on a stretcher to an ambulance.
A child was also freed overnight in the city of Nizip in Gaziantep, the state-run Anadolu Agency said, while a 32-year-old woman was rescued from the rubble of an eight-story building in the city of Antakya. The woman asked for tea as soon as she left, NTV reports.
In Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter of the first 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck early Monday morning, efforts are underway to find a survivor found by search dogs under a seven-story building now covered in rubble, NTV reports.
However, those found alive remained a rare exception.
On Saturday, a large improvised cemetery was being built on the outskirts of Antakya. Backhoes and bulldozers dug holes in the field as trucks and ambulances laden with black body bags kept arriving. Hundreds of graves, spaced no more than 3 feet (meters) apart, were marked with simple wooden boards driven vertically into the ground.
Hataya Airport, whose runway was damaged by the earthquake, was reopened on Sunday, the transport ministry said. This should help in getting help in the region.
The picture is less clear with the dire situation across the border in Syria.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, visiting the Turkey-Syria border on Sunday, said in a statement that Syrians were left “looking for international aid that has not arrived.”
“So far we have failed the people in northwestern Syria. They rightly feel left out,” he said, adding: “It is my duty and our duty to correct this failure as soon as possible.”
The first UN convoy to reach northwestern Syria from Turkey was on Thursday, three days after the earthquake.
Until then, the only cargo going through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkey-Syria border was a steady stream of bodies from the earthquake victims — Syrian refugees who fled the war in their country and settled in Turkey, but died on Monday in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake. ball. shaking – returning home for a funeral.
Political disputes are also delaying aid convoys from areas of northeastern Syria controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish groups to those controlled by the Syrian government and Turkish-backed rebels who have fought the Syrian Democratic Forces for years under led by the Kurds.
The death toll in the rebel-held northwest region of Syria has reached 2,166, according to the White Helmets. The total death toll in Syria on Saturday was 3,553, although the 1,387 deaths reported in government-held parts of the country were not updated for several days.
Fraser reported from Ankara. Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, Abby Sewell in Beirut and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.