Turkey earthquake: The warning signs at the opulent apartments crumbled

the ruins of Gaziantep's Ayşe Mehmet Polat apartments

Long before the deadly earthquakes last week, there were safety concerns at an apartment building in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. There were more than 130 locals who perished. Three days were spent by a BBC team investigating what occurred and the residents' early warnings.

An extended family waits by the roadside for a miracle on a cold winter night with only a bonfire for light and warmth.

It won't be here.

They have been here for nine days and nine nights, but no one has located their loved ones.

The ruins of one of the most desirable streets money can buy here are the stage for this individual grief.

Musician Yunus Emre, whose cousin and his family of four are missing, claims that this is one of Gaziantep's most opulent residential neighborhoods. "The most wealthy reside here. These apartments fetch millions when sold. ".

However, when the earthquake occurred, the property's price had no bearing.

"I'm just upset. The 28-year-old claims, "I want to prosecute someone, but I don't know who. According to him, the national tragedy and scandal that has resulted from the collapse of so many buildings are the fault of numerous parties.

Yunus Emre
Five family members died for Yunus Emre.

He clarifies, "It begins with the contractor.

He constructs with subpar materials. The certifying body is the next step. The blood of those who perished here is on their hands.

It's wrong to use the contractor as a scapegoat. Along with the state and the federal governments, those who approved this building are accountable. They shouldn't have authorized this construction project at all. ".

The 24-year-old Ayşe Mehmet Polat apartment complex was built. While other buildings around it stood tall, four of its six blocks collapsed.

We arrived here after hearing that a man who was allegedly the building's contractor had been detained. Later, he will claim that he did nothing wrong and should not be held accountable through the assistance of his attorney. .

But what specifically occurred on February 6 and could it have been avoided?

Before the earthquakes - and after - images of the apartment complex

The next morning when we arrive back at the complex, emergency services give us a startling statistic: 136 people are believed to have passed away while they were sleeping here.

We inquire whether the nearby gas station has any CCTV footage of the earthquakes' epicenters. We are shown videos of the horror occurring from four different cameras. A thick cloud of smoke and dust eventually engulfed everything in its path after the lights began violently shaking and people began to flee for their lives a short time later.

Within seconds, the nearby apartment buildings were destroyed.

We are drawn to the collection of personal belongings at the forecourt's edge as we leave the gas station. Homework, dolls, cooking utensils, and family photos are among the deeply upsetting exhibits of lives that were abruptly ended. 65-year-old Emel Filik is sifting through the pile while sobbing uncontrollably.

She informs us that "everything is gone.".

She explains that nobody had assumed responsibility for keeping the building safe while her cousin was sleeping in one of the four destroyed blocks.

Nothing happens once you move into your apartment. None was done. Both earthquake insurance and property insurance are useless. The local government doesn't perform checks. Monitoring does not exist. ".

Emel Filik, 65
Before the earthquakes, according to Emel Filik, apartment dwellers were concerned about their safety.

She adds that the head of the residents' association, a woman by the name of Selma, had even invited neighbors to a meeting to hear her concerns. There had been worries about these apartments, she claims.

Six months ago, Selma informed us of the building's issues. "Dear residents, our buildings could collapse at the first sign of an earthquake," she said. We should fortify the pillars. If you're short on cash, the city may be able to assist us in finding a less expensive solution. She hosted several gatherings. However, nothing happened. ".

When we call Selma, we learn that she did indeed hold meetings to discuss her fears.

This was a matter of structural integrity, not wall painting, so should residents really be required to pay to be safe in their own homes?

The head of the group that represents architects in Turkey, Eyüp Muhçu, tells us that it is ultimately the Turkish government's responsibility to ensure the safety of all structures.

"Implementing some projects that were only designed for maximizing profits was the central government's priority, not making the cities safe. This makes 65 percent of Turkey's current building stock risky. Furthermore, no safeguards against these dangerous structures have been put in place. ".

We start looking for information about whether those in charge of the building were aware of potential issues within the blocks and whether they took any action after two residents informed us of them.

A boy briefly approached us the night before as we were approaching the block to tell us that his father had used his bare hands to rescue seven people from the wreckage. Given the extent of the damage we could see, it sounded like a remarkable story, but we didn't rule it out.

And indeed, we decide to find him after hearing others praise a man by the name of Bahattin Aşan for his bravery.

"I witnessed the structure spinning and collapsing. I was the first responder and I came here running in the rain, snow, and darkness, he says.

Bahattin Aşan, 37
Bahattin Aşan claims to have extricated seven people from the wreckage.

The housing complex employed Bahattin Aşan as a security guard in the past.

He plays us a terrifying video of him pleading with those trapped in the burning ruins. Some people answer.

"I was the sole rescuer of seven people. It seemed apocalyptic in nature. I'm still shaking as I tell you this," he admits.

However, what about these purported worries about the buildings' safety, I ask?

"I saw the flaws right there in the parking lot. The concrete columns would crumble to dust in my hands when I touched them, making it appear as if they were made of something other than concrete. The columns' iron was corroding and rusting due to the rain, which also damaged the iron. " .

When I ask Bahattin Aşan if he ever reported this, he adamantly claims that both the management and the residents were aware of it.

I once promised a friend that I wouldn't accept a flat offered to me in this area. I explained that I believed the columns weren't sturdy and that the building would collapse in the event of an earthquake. ".

Mehmet Akay, the man who is allegedly the contractor, asserts that the building complied with the law at the time it was constructed. He asserts that sewage and water works were added to the property after construction, and that this, or other work, may have harmed the supporting columns.

In a nation perilously situated at the confluence of shifting tectonic plates, how many other security officers and caregivers in Turkey had expressed comparable worries?

In this neighborhood of Gaziantep, an immediate picture of either indifference or inaction is emerging rather than one of a cover-up or conspiracy.

Nobody took action despite everyone being aware of the issue.

It is an example of criminal negligence on a large scale in Turkish construction and oversight, according to opposition MP Garo Paylan from the HDP party, who we meet while he visits this site. .

"This is unlawful. This is sinful. ".

Mr. Paylan accuses Recep Tayyip Erdogan's administration of failing to strengthen older structures as well as to ensure the safety of newly constructed ones.

Scientists warned that a disaster was imminent, but the government did very little to prevent it. The cities received our warnings to get the rescue teams ready, but they did nothing, and now we are living through this catastrophe. Supposedly, this is fate. It's not, though. These disasters do occur in civilized nations, but the fatalities are lower. But here, under the debris, there are tens of thousands of people. ".

Five days after the earthquakes, on Saturday, February 11, Mehmet Akay was detained. According to the authorities, Akay served as the building contractor for the Ayşe Mehmet Polat complex. At the Istanbul Airport, he was detained as he attempted to flee the nation.

While state prosecutors claim he was the building contractor, Mr. Akay asserts that he was only the construction coordinator in response to inquiries made through his attorney. He also denies claims that low-quality building materials were used.

Mehmet Akay (pictured on the left)
Istanbul police detained Mehmet Akay (on the left).

We request a response from the local government in Gaziantep, ehitkamil Municipality. No complaints regarding the buildings in the complex, according to spokesman Ahmet Aydn Sert, led to no inspections. "We reviewed the records and found no anomalies. " .

Although President Erdogan has acknowledged that the emergency response to the disaster was, at times, slow, he has urged his people to ignore those who, in his view, are politicizing the tragedy.

The Ayşe Mehmet Polat complex, according to his government, was older and constructed before the ruling party came to power, and more than 98 percent of the buildings that collapsed were older and not the fault of negligence.

No matter the age of their property, many people would argue that every nation has a moral, if not legal, obligation to protect its citizens.

And when Turks vote in the summer, they will make their own decisions about who will be able to keep their families safe in their own homes.

Dou Erolu, Dilay Yalçin, and Jake Horton contributed additional reporting, as well.

the next. On Twitter, Nick Beake.

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