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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Turks Angry at Builders, Officials




SAKARYA, Turkey -- At 22 New Bosnia Street in downtown Sakarya, Arzu Ceviker, a slim young woman with auburn hair, fought her way out of a coffin-sized space in the crumbled apartment building that entombed her for 17 hours.


But she could do nothing more for her 52-year-old father, Ali, than feed him biscuits as he lay fully visible through a shaft atop the ruins. Caught by his ankle in a dark pocket among the rubble and unable to move, Ali died Wednesday morning as Arzu watched him from above, helpless. No rescuers were in sight.


"I heard him sneezing at 3:30 a.m.," she said, weeping softly. "I heard him shouting, 'Arzu, my daughter, my baby!'"


It is hard to say whether Sakarya, before an earthquake hit western Turkey at 3:02 a.m. Tuesday, was scruffy or handsome, or whether its sun-scorched streets were indolent or bustling. What is plain is that now, Sakarya, the scene of many tragedies like Arzu's, was traumatized and transformed, and will remain so for a long while.


The farthest east of major cities pulverized by the earthquake, Sakarya, 144 kilometers southeast of Istanbul, was a tableau of destruction, death and despair. There was fury here, too - fury at construction standards that allowed so many flimsy buildings to be built on a geological fault line, and fury at rescue efforts judged by many to be inadequate.


Nearly 600 bodies have been pulled from collapsed buildings in Sakarya so far, most of them within a few blocks of the city center. Hundreds more people were still trapped, probably dead. More than half the buildings here were damaged, especially newer apartment blocks, and many were entirely destroyed. It was difficult to walk a block without encountering a fresh tragedy.


In Sakarya's central square, a broad leafy plaza ringed by buildings leaning at crazy angles and in piles of rubble, local officials were besieged by hundreds of citizens, grieving, suffering and irate. They gathered under a tent erected in front of the town hall and the din of their pleadings was deafening.


A few clerks manned typewriters. There were no computers. No running water. No functioning local phones. No electricity. No blankets.


Celal Dinzer, the city's deputy governor, is a calm and matter-of-fact man, but he seemed to wither under the force of emotions flung at him. He cannot possibly solve all the problems confronting him but he seemed determined at least to listen.


"We're out-of-towners from Istanbul and we have relatives here!" bellowed a burly man with a mustache whose sleeves were rolled to the elbow. "No one will help us! We've been sent from one official to another! We want to rescue our friends and relatives! We want to dig but we have been given no equipment!"


At the main state hospital on the edge of town, the wounded lay on cots under tents. The hospital was too damaged to keep them indoors. Turkey's health minister, Osman Durmus, was here Tuesday when a badly injured, pregnant young woman arrived by ambulance. Doctors performed an emergency Caesarian section, but neither mother nor baby survived.


It was, said the minister, the most depressing scene he has seen in two full days of touring the quake-damaged zone.


A booming industrial city, Sakarya has grown dizzyingly for at least a decade as its industry and commerce developed. Turks from smaller towns and villages arrived to work at the city's corporate behemoths - its Toyota and Goodyear plants and pharmaceutical concerns. The population expanded at a rate of 10 percent a year.


To accommodate the thousands of new workers and their families, hundreds of apartment buildings rose around the city, crudely built and of cheap materials. If there were special construction standards for building on a known fault line, they were never enforced. In the midst of such a building boom, no one was paying much attention, officials acknowledged. The town, with a population of 350,000, has 15 building inspectors.