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Turkey earthquake: Lawyers race to gather evidence of building faults

Turkey earthquake: Lawyers race to gather evidence of building faults


Lawyer Ahmet Candemir and dozens of other members of the Turkish Bar Association are trying to preserve evidence from the rubble of last month’s catastrophic earthquake to prove that so many lives need not have been lost.

The 7.8-magnitude quake and aftershocks killed more than 46,000 people in Turkey and nearly 6,000 in neighboring Syria last month.

Turkish police have arrested 269 suspects as part of a growing investigation into contractors who erected gleaming towers in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

But critics worry about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s close ties to the construction sector and what effect this might have on his government’s willingness to pursue neglect.

This puts additional pressure on Ahmed Qandamir and the other lawyers who have volunteered to bring justice to families who thought they were moving into homes that could withstand a major earthquake.

“We check the building materials and the thickness of the steel. We remove the street number, we record whether there are dead or injured people inside, the condition of the damage, and we send all the data to the bar,” Kandemir said.

“We check the wreckage before removing it so that the evidence does not disappear,” said lawyer Vratkan Callies.

The Turkish Bar Association has difficult relations with Erdogan’s government, which rights groups accuse of curtailing democratic freedoms and drowning in corruption.

Many of its members have undergone investigation themselves. But lawyers were greeted with hope on the streets of Antakya.

“I am uneducated,” Omar Onsaldi, 67, who lost 14 family members, said, crying.

“I don’t know where I can go,” he said, referring to the lawyers. “But they are educated. They will help and guide us.”

Despite their efforts, it appears that some of the most important evidence has already disappeared.

Ronesans Residence, a luxury complex whose celebrity-list residents include former Ghanaian international footballer Christian Atsu, became a symbol of construction malpractice when it collapsed like a house of cards.

Atsu was one of hundreds who died under the rubble of a 12-storey building built in 2013.

The date is significant because by then Turkey had modernized its building standards, modeling them on those of earthquake-prone California.

However, most of the debris has been removed. In sharp contrast, bags, family photos and toys remained mixed into the soil.

Candemir said the bar association had received dozens of appeals from families of the victims, who were told the building was earthquake-resistant.

“They call and say the apartments have been advertised as a ‘garden of paradise’ that can withstand a magnitude 9.0 earthquake,” he said.

“Many have been killed, their arms and legs have been amputated. There are great grievances.”

The main contractor involved with Ronesans Residence was detained at Istanbul airport while trying to leave the country last month.

His arrest made headlines across Turkey, where nearly all media is under direct or indirect government control, prompting speculation that officials were looking for scapegoats for the disaster.

Rosto Canley, another local contractor, said building developers, municipalities and the government all bear the blame for the high death toll.

“The municipalities allowed five or eight additional floors to be built on top of what should have been a three-story building,” Canley said.

“Ministries have been slow to respond. There should have been proper reviews,” he said.

“We can’t be the only ones to blame here,” the contractor said. “We are all responsible.”




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