At 4:17 a.m. Tuesday, thousands of people in cities across southern Turkey gathered to cry, light candles and chant slogans against the government, marking the moment a year ago when a powerful tremor of earth devastated the region.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake, followed by a second violent tremor hours later, damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of buildings, killing more than 53,000 people in southern Turkey and another 6,000 people in the northern Syria. It was the largest and deadliest earthquake the region has seen in hundreds of years.
The scale of the destruction and the inability of emergency services to reach the many people buried under the rubble until days later angered survivors. Many have accused construction contractors of cutting corners to increase profits and the government of failing to enforce construction safety standards.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised, in the aftermath of the disaster, to build a large number of new housing units within a year. This wish is only partially respected and efforts to make citizens responsible in the event of defective construction are progressing slowly.
Many survivors remain displaced, grieving the loss of loved ones and suffering long-term injuries.
A look at southern Turkey, one year after the earthquake:
How much has been rebuilt?
After the earthquake, the government said 227,000 buildings, containing more than 637,000 homes, had been seriously damaged or destroyed. Mr. Erdogan promised that the government would build 319,000 new residences within a year.
But at the end of January, only 46,000 new homes were ready to be transferred to their owners, according to the Ministry of Cities and the Environment. Officials said hundreds of thousands of new units are planned or under construction, with many expected to be completed this year.
The government also provided rental assistance to displaced families and launched a project to help apartment owners rebuild their collapsed buildings, although some survivors struggled to access the assistance.
But the delay in returning survivors to their own homes is evident in the sprawling “container cities” that still dot the earthquake zone, where hundreds of thousands of people live in cramped, prefabricated homes. Many have no money to rent elsewhere or to rebuild their destroyed homes.
Was anyone held responsible?
Much of the anger immediately after the quake focused on contractors and building inspectors, whom survivors accused of doing shoddy work to save money.
So far, courts have considered 275 cases and more are still being considered, Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said. announcement last week. More than 260 suspects have been detained pending trial.
Court hearings have recently started in a number of cases.
Last month, the trial began against 11 defendants accused of “intentional negligence” in connection with the collapse of the Grand Isias hotel in the town of Adiyaman. More than 70 people were killed, including a group of student volleyball players and some of their parents and coaches.
Another court has agreed to hear a case against eight people accused of circumventing regulations during the construction of the Renaissance Residence, an upscale residential complex in the city of Antakya, which collapsed, killing hundreds of people.
A New York Times investigation and forensic analysis found that faulty design, minimal oversight and insufficient safety controls contributed to the collapse.
It is unclear how long these cases will take to reach court, or whether any government officials will face trial.
Last week, Human Rights Watch said that “not a single public official, elected mayor, or city council member has yet been tried” for their role in the green light or for their failure to protect people against poor quality construction.
Many survivors fear they will ultimately be denied justice.
Busra Yildiz, a graphic designer based in Britain, said in an interview that her mother, grandmother and two other family members died when their apartment building collapsed in the earthquake.
The contractor who built it is in prison, facing charges for other crumbling buildings, but not for her family’s, said Ms. Yildiz, 25. However, she wants him to be punished.
“I don’t want him to see the sun again,” she said.
How are the survivors?
Many survivors, struggling with injuries and grief, say the government has failed to keep up with the scale of the disaster.
On Tuesday, residents of Hatay, one of the hardest-hit provinces, booed the provincial mayor and the national minister of health, forcing them to flee, according to videos posted on social networks. Elsewhere, survivors dropped carnations into the Orontes River to commemorate the dead, and protesters chanted: “We will not forget!” We will not forgive!
Asked whether residents felt that not enough had been done to help, Huseyin Yayman, a Hatay lawmaker from Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, said the feeling was natural.
“We need houses, buildings and above all psychologists,” he said in an interview. “We are all suffering seriously.”
In addition to the more than 53,000 people killed in Turkey, 134 people are still missing, he said. Eighty-three were from his province.
“A year has passed and our pain is still overwhelming,” he said.
How is the president doing?
Despite frustration felt in the earthquake zone over the government’s initial response, Mr. Erdogan won another presidential term in May – even as he faced one of the biggest electoral challenges of his 20 years in office. as Turkey’s leading politician.
He defended the government’s response to the earthquake, which he called “the disaster of the century.”
“We experienced a catastrophe that destroyed our houses on our heads and burned our hearts, and we will carry the pain it caused within us like a burning coal until the end of our lives,” he said. declared Tuesday during an awards ceremony. new housing for survivors in the town of Kahramanmaras.
Mr Erdogan said that in recent days the government had distributed the keys to more than 27,000 new homes in quake-hit towns and that another 20,000 would be ready soon.
“Only a few countries and societies could resist such a disaster as forcefully as Turkey,” he said. “Thank God, on the first anniversary of the earthquake, we have cleared the rubble and made significant progress in rebuilding cities, and people are getting back on track with their lives. »