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Turkish officials ask how shoddy construction might have led to collapsed buildings


The Turkish government says over a million people are living in temporary shelters a week after a earthquake hit parts of the country and neighboring Syria.


The death toll from the powerful 7.8 magnitude quake now stands at more than 33,000. And funerals are continuing all across the region.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Jason Beaubien joins us now from one of those funeral sites in Turkey.

Jason, what are you seeing?

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: You know, the number of dead here is so overwhelming that officials have set up a mass grave on a hillside just east of the city of Marash. There are these long lines of fresh mounds on the hill. In any other time, you know, this would be a really spectacular spot where I am right now. There's these snow-capped mountains across the valley, but now it has become this assembly line for burying the dead. Corpses - they're coming in pickup trucks. They're coming in in ambulances, in vans from the morgues. The police identify the ones that they can.

Then there are these 19 white tents at the top of the hill, where the bodies are ceremonially washed. Then further down the hill, there are these backhoes that are digging trenches. And as soon as the trenches are open, men, mourners come. They lower the body bags in. Then there's this sort of rotating chorus of sorrow here - family members crying and moms praying over the graves. And then they move on, and the backhoe cuts another trench.

MARTÍNEZ: Is there a best guess on how many people have been buried where you are?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, A, we've actually been asking that question here, and no one can give us an exact number at the moment because it keeps changing. But based on the numbers that are written on the graves, it's at least 4,000 just in this site alone.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. That's awful. And this is just one place among many in this area that covers hundreds of miles. What are you seeing where you are that's happening somewhere else?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. You know, Marash, where I am here - it's in the northern part of this massive quake zone. Some of the worst-hit places in Turkey are in Hatay in the south. We are seeing funerals and burials happening all over the place, everywhere. And one of the things about this disaster is that it hit when most people were home asleep. So you're getting entire families being killed together. And we go to some of these funerals. And for surviving relatives, it's particularly hard because in an instant, that extended family, which is so important in Turkey, may have been cut in half or even worse.

MARTÍNEZ: And while people are burying their dead, I mean, the reality of this is that the window for finding survivors is closing - what? - in about a week, and yet some people are still being pulled out alive.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. There have been some remarkable recoveries. Even today, rescuers pulled a 40-year-old woman alive out of the debris of a collapsed building in an earthquake-damage region in Turkey. But rescuers are saying that it's getting to the point where it's unlikely that very many more people should be expected to be found alive. You know, it's been a week. It's been freezing at night. The rescuers in Syria announced several days ago that they were focusing on recovering bodies now instead of rescue operations. And the chance of finding many more people alive, rescuers here say, is slim.

MARTÍNEZ: And just one more thing really quick - people are angry there - right? - because of the recovery efforts.

BEAUBIEN: Some people are angry about the recovery efforts. There's also growing frustration about potentially that some of these buildings collapsed because of shoddy construction work. There's some arrests that happened over the weekend. Mainly, people are dealing with grief. But, yes, there is frustration that's also building in the midst of this disaster.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien in Turkey.

Jason, thanks.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SILENT ISLAND'S "ODE TO AORAI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.