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Hopes none killed in Turkey building collapse as 21 escape

Istanbul – Twenty-one people survived being buried under heavy debris when a two-storey building collapsed in eastern Turkey yesterday, the government said, adding that no more people were believed to be missing.

The incident occurred on a busy street in the city of Malatya, as residents filled shops on their way home from work.

Around 20 people were believed to be inside the building when it crumbled shortly before 5 pm (1400 GMT), regional governor Aydin Barus said.

But interior ministry spokesman Ismail Catakli said rescue workers had pulled 13 people from the rubble, while eight others managed to escape on their own.

“According to the information we have, there are no more missing people,” Catakli said late yesterday, without ruling out the possibility that one or more people could still be trapped.

“Let’s hope we don’t have any bad surprises.”

Thirteen people were hospitalised, with two taken to intensive care, Barus said.

Witnesses and media reports said the building crumbled during planned renovation work that resulted in damage to one of the walls separating two of the ground floor restaurants.

“I heard a crack first and then the building collapsed. A cloud of dust emerged. It was like judgement day,” witness Turhan Cobanoglu told HaberTurk television.

The Turkish government’s disaster and emergency management agency said 260 rescue worker were deployed to the scene, which was lit up to allow efforts to continue through the night.

CCTV footage of the collapse showed the building suddenly crumbling, shooting up a huge cloud of dust. A car parked in front of the building sped off while passers-by rushed to help those trapped under the rubble.

Malatya’s main opposition CHP party chairman Enver Kiraz said that on the building’s “first floor, there was a chicken restaurant, a dried nuts seller and bakery”.

“And on the second floor there was a coffee house,” Kiraz told AFP by telephone.

The cause of the collapse remained unclear, but Barus pointed the finger at the work being done on the building.

The building’s owner and three people who were carrying out the work have been taken into custody, Malatya’s prosecutor’s office said.

Call for silence

Barus urged local residents and reporters gathered at the scene to keep their distance to help rescuers detect signs of life.

“The search and rescue teams need silence to be able to hear,” he said in televised comments.

Television images showed rescuers using construction diggers and their bare hands to clear out the heavy slabs of concrete and mounds of wood.

Turkey has been rocked by a series of disasters — including a wave of wildfires and two flash floods — that claimed some 100 lives this year.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came under fierce political pressure when it emerged in August that Turkey no longer had functioning fire-fighting planes.

The deadly flash floods wiped out houses in mountain valleys and sparked questions over why officials were approving construction licences for regions prone to violent weather events.

Erdogan’s office said the Turkish leader also placed calls to the local governor and mayor to receive a personal update about the rescue work. — AFP

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