LONDON: Government ineptitude may have contributed to the deaths of more than 75 people in the Turkish city of Izmir, after repeated warnings over the safety of buildings were ignored.
At least 120 people remain missing in Izmir after an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale occurred near the Turkish coast on Oct. 30, bringing down 17 high-rise buildings in the city.
Documents seen by The Times newspaper show that reports delivered to the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization over unsafe buildings in the city in 2010, 2012 and 2018 were not acted upon. Some of those buildings collapsed in the earthquake.
In addition, a plan drawn up by the ministry to inspect all buildings across the country by 2017 — in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake that struck the eastern city of Van, killing 604 people — was never carried out.
“Two buildings in our street collapsed — there were huge clouds of dust and smoke and masonry collapsing on to us. I helped rescue a family from their balcony in the next building and then I reported for duty,” said Ramazan Bal, a local council employee who was inside one of the buildings highlighted in 2010 when the Oct. 30 earthquake struck.
“By 10 p.m. I realised my father was missing. We know he is here because his last phone signal came from inside, five minutes after the earthquake.”
The building, an eight-storey apartment block called the Riza Bey, had been marked as at risk of serious damage should an earthquake hit the area.
Eylem Ulutas Ayatar, head of the local chamber of engineering, told The Times: “The epicentre was so far from Izmir — this wasn’t an Izmir earthquake, but we felt it so powerfully.
“The common people need to know whether their buildings are prepared or not. Of course this (the Riza Bey) was a 30-year-old building, and we are now using better materials. But we still have questions about the quality of contractors, and if we had decent, institutionalised building inspections, we wouldn’t have this problem today.”
Turkey has long been at risk from seismic activity. Over 80,000 people have died due to earthquakes in the past century, and the area lies along many active fault lines.
In addition, planning laws and their upholding have long been subject to corruption and mismanagement.
In 2018, around 10 million buildings illegally built or renovated were given retrospective planning permission under a government amnesty, including many that did not meet safety criteria.
Selin Sayek Boke, general secretary of the opposition Republican People’s Party and an MP for Izmir, said: “We know that what has to be done to prevent losses in the event of earthquakes has not been done … Quality, regulation and supervision were never prioritised.”