Turkey steps up rebuilding plans as quake toll nears 50,000

February 24, 2023 6:15 am

Arsin and his father take belongings out of their destroyed apartment in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake in Antakya, Hatay province, Turkey, February 20, 2023.

Turkey has stepped up plans to house victims of the devastating earthquake which struck its border region with Syria, the interior minister said, as the combined death toll in the two countries crept towards 50,000.

Suleyman Soylu said 313,000 tents had been erected, with 100,000 container homes to be installed in the disaster zone which stretches for hundreds of kilometres inland from the Turkish and Syrian Mediterranean coast.

The number of people killed in Turkey has risen to 43,556, Soylu said, while in Syria the death toll was close to 6,000. The United Nations said more than 4,500 were killed in Syria’s rebel-held northwest, and the Syrian government said 1,414 people died in the area under its control.

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Soylu said more than 600,000 apartments and 150,000 commercial premises had suffered at least moderate damage.

Soylu also said authorities were widening an investigation into Turkish building contractors suspected of violating safety standards and multiplying the scale of devastation.

He said 564 suspects had been identified, with 160 people formally arrested and many more still under investigation.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, in power for two decades and gearing up for elections within four months, faces accusations from opposition parties that his own government failed to enforce building regulations.

Even before the magnitude 7.8 quake struck on Feb. 6, opinion polls showed he was under pressure from a cost of living crisis, which could worsen as the disaster has disrupted agricultural production in southern Turkey.

Erdogan has pledged to rebuild housing within one year.

Around 865,000 people are living in tents and 23,500 in container homes, while 376,000 are in student dormitories and public guesthouses outside the earthquake zone, Erdogan said on Tuesday.

The 19-year-old history student was travelling with his two younger brothers to Mersin, where his parents and siblings were staying with relatives. He said he now wanted to emigrate to Switzerland and continue his studies there.

Others, whose homes suffered only light damage, say they want to return. Lami Soyler, 53, a retired mechanic, said he was tired of sheltering in a crowded camp .

When he visited his apartment in Iskenderun on Thursday to gather clean clothes and supplies, he met his neighbours and told them he was planning to move back with his wife and son. “We’ve had enough,” he said.

Soyler said city engineers inspected the building and declared it was only lightly damaged and safe enough to stay in. “If you come back, maybe we will too,” a neighbour replied.

Turkey’s central bank lowered its policy rate by 50 basis points to 8.5% on Thursday, as expected, to support growth in the wake of the earthquake.