Turkey Issues Over 100 Arrest Warrants For Building Contractors As Death Toll Climbs To Over 33,000

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Officials in Turkey have issued over 100 arrest warrants for building contractors as the death toll from February’s devastating earthquake climbs to over 33,000, according to multiple outlets.

Thousands of buildings crumbled across parts of Turkey and Syria when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake and numerous powerful aftershocks struck the region in the early hours of Feb. 6. The death toll has steadily climbed as rescue workers fight against cold temperatures and damaged infrastructure to recover those who became trapped beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings. (RELATED: ‘Disaster Of The Century’: Earthquake Deaths Top 20,000 In Turkey, Syria)

Experts warned many new buildings in Turkey were unsafe due to government policies that allowed contractors to bypass building regulations in order to facilitate a “construction boom,” leaving many to question whether the impact of the earthquake was worsened because of corners that had allegedly been cut, the BBC reported.

“We’ve seen this before,” civil engineer Jonathan Stewart told NPR in a Feb. 7 report. Stewart, an engineering professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, traveled to Turkey as part of an infrastructure assessment team following the 7.6 magnitude earthquake in 1999 that saw more than 17,000 people killed.

“There was tremendous loss of life from pancaked buildings,” Stewart added, speaking about the casualties from the 1999 quake.

That same “pancaking” was visible as videos from February’s earthquake show multiple buildings suddenly collapsing as ground begins to shake.

Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag announced Sunday that 131 people were being investigated for their alleged involvement in the construction of many of the buildings that crumbled during the earthquake, the Associated Press (AP) reported. At least 12 have already been arrested by Turkish police, according to the BBC. Two were taken into custody at Istanbul’s airport as they tried to flee the country, AP reported, citing the private Turkish news outlet DHA and other reports.

One of the detained contractors, Yavuz Karakus, told DHA his “conscience is clear,” according to AP.

“I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules,” he said, the outlet reported.

The construction codes in Turkey allegedly comply with earthquake-engineering regulations on paper, but those standards are not strongly enforced, AP reported.

The death toll across the region has climbed to over 33,000, a number the United Nations (UN) believes will double, the BBC reported. Martin Griffiths, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, told the outlet the quake was the “worst event in 100 years in this region” adding it was the “worst natural disaster” he had ever seen.

Those who survived the quake are facing a massive humanitarian crisis as millions find themselves homeless in freezing temperatures with more than 800,000 people without proper food supply, the BBC reported.