By Ali Kucukgocmen
HATAY, Turkey – Residents of a luxury residential complex in southern Turkey thought their apartments were ‘earthquake-proof’ until the structure toppled like a domino in last week’s devastating earthquake, leaving hundreds feared dead.
Now the wreckage of Ronesans Rezidans, which was advertised as “a piece of paradise” when it opened a decade ago, has become a focus of public anger.
Survivors stand by the pile of rubble that was the block of 249 flats and wait for news of their loved ones as hope of their survival fades.
“My brother lived here for ten years… It was said to be earthquake-proof, but you can see the result,” said 47-year-old jeweler Hamza Alpaslan.
“It was introduced as the most beautiful residence in the world. It is in a terrible state. There is neither cement nor proper iron in it. It is a real hell,” he added.
Eleven days after the earthquake that killed more than 43,000 in Turkey and Syria and left millions homeless, outrage is growing over what Turks see as corrupt building practices and deeply flawed urban development.
Turkey’s Ministry of Urbanization estimates that 84,700 buildings have collapsed or are severely damaged.
While Ronesans Rezidans, which translates as “Renaissance Residence”, crumbled, several older buildings still stood near the block.
“We rented this place as an elite place, a safe place,” said Sevil Karaabduloglu, whose two daughters lie under the rubble.
Missing Ghanaian international footballer Christian Atsu who played for local team Hatayspor is also believed to have lived in the complex.
Dozens of people Reuters interviewed in the city of Hatay, where the complex was located, accused contractors of using cheap or unsuitable materials and authorities of showing leniency to substandard building construction.
“Who is responsible? Everyone, everyone, everyone,” Alpaslan said, blaming local authorities and building inspectors.
The developer of the complex, Mehmet Yasar Coskun, was arrested at Istanbul Airport as he prepared to board a flight to Montenegro last Friday evening, according to Turkish state news agency Anadolu.
“The public is looking for a criminal, a culprit. My client was singled out as this culprit,” Coskun’s lawyer Kubra Kalkan Colakoglu told prosecutors, according to court documents seen by Anadolu, adding that he denied any wrongdoing.
According to Anadolu, Coskun told prosecutors that the building was solid and had all the necessary licenses.
ERDOGAN’S CONSTRUCTION BOOM
Turkey has vowed to investigate the building collapse and is investigating 246 suspects so far, including developers, 27 of whom are now in police custody.
“No rubble is cleared without collecting evidence,” said Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag.
“Everyone who was responsible for building, inspecting and using the buildings is being evaluated.”
President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party has placed a heavy emphasis on construction, which has helped drive growth during its two decades in power, although the sector suffered in the past five years as the economy struggled.
Opposition parties accused his government of failing to enforce building regulations and of misapplying special taxes imposed after the last major earthquake in 1999 to make buildings more earthquake-resistant.
In the ten years to 2022, Turkey fell 47 places in Transparency International’s corruption index to 101, after being as high as 54 out of 174 countries in 2012.
Erdogan claims that the opposition is lying to smear the government and prevent investment.
Three kilometers away from the Renaissance Residence is a damaged state building linked to Turkey’s Ministry of Urbanization, where locals and activists said important documents related to building safety and quality control were scattered among the debris.
Omer Mese, a lawyer from Istanbul, said he had been keeping watch over the ruins and trying to salvage what could be important evidence even though some documents had been destroyed as people left homeless searched for anything they could burn for heat.
“There were many official documents with original signatures. It was important to save and protect them… so that those responsible for this disaster can be brought to justice,” he said, adding that the papers included concrete and earthquake resistance data. tests.
“I read the news about contractors who were arrested after the earthquake, but when we think about this destruction and its scale… there should be more,” he added.
The Ministry of Urbanization said documents would be moved to the ministry’s archives in the city and were stored digitally.
Sector officials have said that around 50% of the total 20 million buildings in Turkey are in breach of building regulations.
In 2018, the government introduced a so-called zone amnesty to legalize unregistered construction work, which engineers and architects warned could put lives at risk.
Around 10 million people applied to benefit from the amnesty and 1.8 million applications were accepted. Property owners paid to register the buildings, which were then subject to various taxes and fees.
The government said it was necessary to remove disagreements between the state and citizens and to legalize structures.
“Unfortunately, the amnesty zone in our country is one way or another
considered a public blessing,” Mese said.
“We’ve become a society that thrives on seeing it as a plus to put something off for a day, but we end up crushed by the consequences of it. That’s the problem.”
(Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Christina Fincher)