ANTAKYA, Feb 23 – Turkey will widen an investigation into building contractors suspected of violating safety standards following its devastating earthquake, the interior minister said, as the country stepped up housing plans for victims.
Suleyman Soylu said 564 suspects had been identified so far, with 160 people formally arrested and many more still under investigation.
“Our cities will be built in the right places, our children will live in stronger cities. We know what kind of test we are facing, and we will come out of this stronger,” he told state broadcaster TRT Haber.
President Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to rebuild housing within one year.
In power for two decades, Erdogan faces elections within four months. Even before the quake, opinion polls showed he was under pressure from a cost of living crisis, which could worsen as the disaster has disrupted agricultural production.
Soylu said some 313,000 tents had been erected, with 100,000 container homes to be installed in the earthquake zone.
The number of people killed in Turkey in this month’s devastating earthquakes has risen to 43,556, Soylu said overnight.
Soylu said there had been 7,930 aftershocks following the first quake on Feb. 6 and that more than 600,000 apartments and 150,000 commercial premises had suffered at least moderate damage.
Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum said 164,000 buildings with more than 530,000 apartments were destroyed or severely damaged by the earthquake.
The government has already started contract processes for the construction of new apartments in the area that was hit, Kurum added.
“There’s no one left in town. There’s nothing to do,” said Caner Ozdemir after getting off a bus that arrived from Kirikhan to the Iskenderun train station.
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.
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.
“It has become even more important to keep financial conditions supportive to preserve the growth momentum in industrial production and the positive trend in employment after the earthquake,” the bank said after its monthly policy meeting.
Turkey launched a temporary wage support scheme on Wednesday and banned layoffs in 10 cities to protect workers and businesses from the financial impact of the massive earthquake that hit the south of the country.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake on Feb. 6 damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of buildings and left millions homeless.
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.