Earthquake in Turkey: The warnings at the opulent apartments became dust

The Ayşe Mehmet Polat apartments in Gaziantep are still standing

Long before last week's deadly earthquakes, residents of an apartment building in the Turkish city of Gaziantep began to express safety concerns. There were over 130 residents who perished. A BBC team has spent three days investigating what transpired and the residents' early warnings.

An extended family is waiting for a miracle by the roadside on a bitter winter night with only a bonfire for light and warmth.

It won't arrive.

Even after nine days and nights, they have not located their loved ones.

In the ruins of one of the most desirable streets money can buy, this individual grief is being acted out.

The missing cousin and his family of four live in one of Gaziantep's most opulent neighborhoods, according to musician Yunus Emre. "The richest people reside here. Millions are paid for those apartments. ".

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

"I'm only irate. The 28-year-old says, "I want to bring someone to justice, but I don't know who. With the collapse of so many buildings, he believes that numerous parties are responsible for what is not only a national tragedy but also a national scandal.

Yunus Emre
Five members of Yunus Emre's family died.

He says, "It starts with the contractor.

"He employs subpar building supplies. The certifying authority is the next. They are covered in the blood of those who perished in this place.

"Scapegoating the contractor is wrong. Together with the federal and state governments, those who approved the construction are accountable. They shouldn't have approved this construction project in the first place. ".

The 24-year-old Ayşe Mehmet Polat apartment building is a complex. Although other structures around it were standing tall, four of its six blocks collapsed.

We visited this location as a result of hearing that the man who was allegedly the building's contractor had been detained. He will later claim, via his attorney, that he did nothing wrong and shouldn't be held accountable. .

But what specifically occurred here on February 6 and was it avoidable?

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

The following morning when we return to the complex, emergency services give us a startling statistic: 136 people are believed to have passed away here while they slept.

We inquire whether the gas station next door has any CCTV footage from the time the earthquakes occurred. Videos from four different cameras that capture the horror as it happens are provided to us. The lights began to shake violently, people began to flee for their lives a short time later, and then all that was left was a dense cloud of smoke and dust that engulfed everything in its path.

In a matter of seconds, the nearby apartment buildings collapsed.

We are drawn to the collection of personal belongings at the edge of the forecourt as we leave the gas station. It is a gravely upsetting museum of lives that were abruptly ended, including family photos, dolls, cooking utensils, and homework. Emel Filik, 65, is rummaging through the pile while sobbing uncontrollably.

She says, "Everything is gone.

She explains that one of the four destroyed blocks was where her cousin was sleeping, and nobody had assumed responsibility for keeping the structure secure.

"Once you move into your apartment, nothing happens. No examination. Both property insurance and earthquake insurance are useless. The government doesn't conduct checks. Monitoring is not a thing. ".

Emel Filik, 65
Apartment dwellers were concerned about their safety prior to the earthquakes, according to Emel Filik.

She adds that there had been worry about these apartments, and the head of the residents' association, Selma, had even invited neighbors to a meeting to hear her worries.

"Selma first informed us about the building's issues six months ago. "Dear residents, even the smallest earthquakes could cause our buildings to collapse," she said. Let's make the pillars stronger. The municipality may be able to help us with a less expensive solution if you're strapped for cash. She held a number of meetings. But nothing took place. ".

We track down Selma's phone number, and she confirms that she attended meetings to discuss her fears.

This was a question of structural integrity, not wall painting, but should residents really have to pay to be safe in their own homes.

According to Eyüp Muhçu, the head of the organization that represents architects in Turkey, the Turkish government is ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of buildings.

"The central government's top priority was not to make the cities safe, but rather to carry out some projects that were only designed to maximize profits. Because of this, 65 percent of Turkey's current building stock is insecure. Furthermore, no precautions have been taken in relation to these dangerous structures. ".

Two residents have informed us that there may have been issues within the blocks, so we start looking into whether those in charge of the building were aware of them and whether they took any action.

A boy briefly approached us when we first arrived at the block the previous evening to tell us that his father had used his bare hands to rescue seven people from the rubble. Given the extent of the destruction we could see, it sounded like a remarkable story, but we didn't dismiss it.

And sure enough, we make the decision to find Bahattin Aşan after hearing others praise his bravery.

"I observed the building spinning and collapsing. I was the first to arrive; it was dark, raining, and snowing when I arrived, he says.

Bahattin Aşan, 37
According to Bahattin Aşan, he extricated seven people from the debris.

At the housing complex, Bahattin Aşan had previously held a security guard position.

He plays a terrifying video of him calling out to the trapped people that he shot in the burning ruins. Others respond.

"By myself, I saved seven people. It resembled the end of days. I'm still trembling even as I'm telling you this," he admits.

I ask him if he saw these alleged worries about the safety of the buildings.

"I saw the flaws in the parking lot with my own eyes. The concrete columns would crumble to dust in my hands when I touched them, making them appear to be made of something else entirely. The columns' iron was corroding and rusting as a result of the rain. " .

Bahattin Aşan denies that he ever reported this, saying that both the management and the residents were aware of it.

"I used to say to a friend that I wouldn't accept a flat offered to me here. I explained that I believed the columns weren't sturdy and that an earthquake would cause the building to collapse. ".

Mehmet Akay, the man who is allegedly the contractor, claims though that the structure was built in accordance with the law at the time. He asserts that the property's sewage and water systems were added after it was built, and that this work or another project may have harmed the supporting columns.

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

This Gaziantep neighborhood is currently showing neither a cover-up nor a conspiracy, but rather either indifference or inaction.

Everyone was aware of the issue, but nothing was done about it.

When we meet HDP opposition MP Garo Paylan on a visit to this site, he views it as evidence of widespread criminal negligence in Turkish construction and oversight. .

"This is illegal. This is wrong. ".

Mr. Paylan charges the administration of Recep Tayyip Erdogan with failing to ensure the security of both new construction and to reinforce aging structures.

The government did almost nothing despite the scientists' shrill warnings that a catastrophe was imminent. We warned the cities to get the rescue teams ready, but they did nothing, and now we are living through this disaster. They claim that this is fate. Not at all, no. These types of catastrophes do occur in civilized nations, but the death toll is lower. But here, thousands of people are buried beneath the debris. ".

Five days after the earthquakes, on Saturday, February 11, Mehmet Akay—the man who authorities claim served as the Ayşe Mehmet Polat complex's general contractor—was taken into custody. As he attempted to leave the country, he was stopped at Istanbul Airport.

State prosecutors assert that he was the building contractor, but in response to inquiries made through his attorney, Mr. Akay says he was only the construction coordinator. Additionally, he denies claims that subpar construction materials were used.

Mehmet Akay (pictured on the left)
Police in Istanbul detained Mehmet Akay (on the left).

We request a response from the ehitkamil Municipality in Gaziantep. No complaints about the complex buildings, according to spokesman Ahmet Aydn Sert, led to no inspections. "We reviewed the records and discovered no errors. " .

While acknowledging that the emergency response to the disaster was in some cases slow, President Erdogan has urged his people not to pay attention to those who he claims are politicizing the tragedy.

His government disputes any negligence and asserts that more than 98 percent of the collapsed structures were older and constructed before the ruling party came to power, like the Ayşe Mehmet Polat complex.

There are many who believe that regardless of the age of their property, every nation has a moral, if not legal, obligation to protect its citizens.

And when Turks cast their votes this summer, they will decide for themselves who is best able to guarantee the safety of their families at home.

Jake Horton, Dou Erolu, Dilay Yalçin, and Naomi Scherbel-Ball contributed additional reporting.

Adhere to. Twitter user Nick Beake.

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