Building contractors arrested in Turkey as death toll passes 33,000 six days after earthquake

Rescuers are still searching for survivors - but now begins the search for blame, ITV News' Peter Smith reports from Turkey's Mediterranean Coast

Turkish officials have detained or issued arrest warrants for some 130 people allegedly involved in shoddy and illegal construction methods, as the earthquake death toll passes 33,000.

Rescuers on Sunday continued to pull a few survivors from the rubble, six days after twin earthquakes that hit south-east Turkey and northern Syria collapsed thousands of buildings.

The death toll from the 7.8-magnitude quake has risen to 33,179, with figures expected to continue to grow as the odds of finding more survivors quickly fades.

The focus is beginning to turn to who to blame for the carnage in the earthquake-prone region, that includes an area of Syria already suffering from years of civil war.

Emergency teams search for people in the rubble of a destroyed building in Adana, southern Turkey. Credit: AP

Although Turkey has construction codes which meet current earthquake-engineering standards, they are rarely enforced - resulting in thousands of building pancaking, and crushing residents during the quakes.

Warrants have been issued for the detention of 131 people suspected to being responsible for collapsed buildings, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said late on Saturday.

Turkey’s justice minister has vowed to punish anyone responsible, and prosecutors have begun gathering samples of buildings for evidence on materials used in constructions.

The quakes were powerful, but victims, experts and people across Turkey are blaming bad construction for multiplying the devastation.

Among those facing scrutiny were two people arrested in Gaziantep province on suspicion of having cut 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.

Authorities at Istanbul Airport on Sunday detained two contractors who have been held responsible for the destruction of several buildings in Adiyaman, the private DHA news agency and other media outlets have reported.

The pair were reportedly on their way to Georgia.

One of the arrested contractors, Yavuz Karakus, told reporters Sunday: “My conscience is clear.

"I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules."

Two more people were arrested in the province of Gaziantep suspected of having cut down columns to make extra room in a building that collapsed, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.

Another building contractor was detained by authorities on Friday at Istanbul airport before he could board a flight out of the country.

He was the contractor of a luxury 12-story building in the historic city of Antakya, in Hatay province, the collapse of which left an untold number of dead.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to survivors as he visits the city centre in Kahramanmaras. Credit: AP

Turkey’s Justice Ministry has also announced the planned establishment of “Earthquake Crimes Investigation” bureaus.

The bureaus would aim to identify contractors and others responsible for building works, gather evidence, instruct experts including architects, geologists and engineers, and check building permits and occupation permits.

The detentions could help direct public anger toward builders and contractors, deflecting attention away from local and state officials who allowed the apparently sub-standard constructions to go ahead.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, already burdened by an economic downturn and high inflation, faces parliamentary and presidential elections in May.

A lot of survivors, many of whom lost loved ones, have turned their frustration and anger towards the authorities.

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