Turkey faces an “incomprehensible” challenge to remove the earthquake’s rubble
ANTIAKH, Turkey (Reuters) – After the deadliest earthquake in its recent history, Turkey faces the daunting task of disposing of hundreds of millions of tons of rubble, some of which could be harmful.
Turkish authorities said the Feb. 6 earthquake and aftershocks left at least 156,000 buildings completely collapsed or damaged to a point requiring demolition, with entire areas of cities reduced to wrecked concrete and steel.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) says the 116-210 million tons of rubble generated is equivalent to an area of 100 square kilometers (40 square miles), if piled one meter high. This is roughly the size of Barcelona.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces elections likely to be held on May 14, has vowed to rebuild homes within a year, though experts have warned that safety must come before speed.
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An official said tenders and contracts had already been completed for some projects and safety would not be compromised.
In many cities, rescue teams have been replaced by thousands of trucks and excavators trudging away in mountains of concrete. Workers in the city of Antakya, in Hatay province, said that it could take several days to remove the rubble from a building.
“The scope of the challenge is almost beyond comprehension,” UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Fenton said in a statement. The United Nations Development Program said the disaster caused 10 times more debris than the last major Turkish earthquake in 1999.
Much of the rubble removed so far has been stored in makeshift dumps nearby, raising concerns about contamination. Several experts told Reuters there are concerns that the old building materials may contain asbestos, a cancer-causing fiber banned in many countries, including in Turkey.
Deputy Environment Minister Mehmet Emin Birpinar said in a tweet that dust suppression systems are used to prevent harmful materials such as asbestos from spreading.
Reuters journalists noted that some water trucks were hosed down rubble as it was being transferred to trucks in cities including Antakya and Osmaniye, but in many other cases, there were no such measures. Bierpinar could not be reached for comment.
Proximity and convenience are key factors when choosing a landfill site, according to three people directly involved in rubble removal in the southern city of Antakya.
But Ahmed Kahraman, head of the Chamber of Environmental Engineers, said the place where the debris is stored requires “careful study” by geological and environmental experts.
Some environmental activists and opposition politicians warn that improper rubble removal could lead to an environmental disaster. At least one site visited by Reuters was a wooded area.
“Dumping rubble in the city, olive groves and stream beds without decomposing and recycling them is causing new environmental disasters,” said Gökhan Günaydin of the opposition Republican People’s Party.
Perpınar said on Twitter last Friday that the areas chosen for rubble disposal in Hatay are far from agricultural and residential areas, as well as wetlands and protected areas.
He added that so far 19 temporary sites have been identified in Hatay, with a total area of 200 football fields, and 150,000 cubic meters of rubble are being moved daily.
This week, hundreds of trucks of aggregates rolled into the hills east of Antakya, unloading their cargo at sites near lush greenery and olive trees.
Altan Arslan, 51, who owns a brick and cement factory, said he donated his land to the government for use in storing rubble after the earthquake.
He said thousands of trucks were arriving every day and the rubble had turned into a huge pile. Bulldozers then flattened the waste and pushed it against the side of a cliff, dumping some of the debris into the valley and creating large clouds of dust.
“We may need two more fields like this because the destruction is massive,” Arslan said, as excavators dumped crushed concrete near the piles of new cement blocks in his yard.
He added that the locals were traumatized immediately after the quake, making them worry about where to dump the rubble.
His factory helped build Antakya, but the land it stood on is now the city’s cemetery.
“We were very happy while creating this city, but seeing it collapse like this…”. He put his hand on his face and wept.
(Covering) By Timur Azhari and Ece Toksabay in Antakya, Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Andrew Heavens
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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