Turkey has stepped up plans to house victims of the devastating earthquake which struck its border region with Syria, the interior minister said, as the combined death toll in the two countries crept toward 50,000.
Suleyman Soylu said 313,000 tents had been erected, with 100,000 container homes to be installed in the disaster zone which stretches for hundreds of kilometers inland from the Turkish and Syrian Mediterranean coast.
The number of people killed in Turkey has risen to 43,556, Soylu said, while in Syria the death toll was close to 6,000. The United Nations said more than 4,500 were killed in Syria's rebel-held northwest, and the Syrian government said 1,414 people died in the area under its control.
Soylu said more than 600,000 apartments and 150,000 commercial premises had suffered at least moderate damage.
"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.
Soylu also said authorities were widening an investigation into Turkish building contractors suspected of violating safety standards and multiplying the scale of devastation.
He said 564 suspects had been identified, with 160 people formally arrested and many more still under investigation.
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan, in power for two decades and gearing up for elections within four months, faces accusations from opposition parties that his own government failed to enforce building regulations.
Even before the magnitude 7.8 quake struck on Feb. 6, opinion polls showed he was under pressure from a cost of living crisis, which could worsen as the disaster has disrupted agricultural production in southern Turkey.
Erdogan has pledged to rebuild housing within one year.
"THERE'S NO ONE LEFT"
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.
“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 train station in the coastal city of Iskenderun.
The 19-year-old history student was traveling 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.
Others, whose homes suffered only light damage, say they want to return. Lami Soyler, 53, a retired mechanic, said he was tired of sheltering in a crowded camp.
When he visited his apartment in Iskenderun on Thursday to gather clean clothes and supplies, he met his neighbors and told them he was planning to move back with his wife and son. "We’ve had enough," he said.
Soyler said city engineers inspected the building and declared it was only lightly damaged and safe enough to stay in. "If you come back, maybe we will too," a neighbor replied.
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.