Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Come Tumblin' Down


Building collapse kills man in Istanbul

ANKARA, Turkey -- One man died on Tuesday (December 29th 2009) when a four-storey building in the Asian part of Istanbul collapsed. Rescuers managed to save his brother, who was buried with him under the debris. No other injuries were reported in the incident in the low-income neighborhood of Sancaktepe. Mayor Ismail Erdem said the brothers were working to renovate the building when a ceiling collapsed on them. (AP, DPA - 29/12/09)

For the past three days now, construction workers in the apartment above, have been drilling, chiseling and sledge-hammering the walls and floors.  Whenever there is renovation of this kind, I am filled with silent anxiety. The racket begins a bit after nine in the morning and carries on until after dark, with a lot of deceptive lulls. Aside from that, I am disturbed by the possibility that one over-eager teen-destroyer might knock out the wrong wall, as in a support.  The last thing I hear is the Turkish equivalent to "Whoops!"

Laugh if you will but, in fact, shoddy construction is so common in Turkey that events like building collapses tend to occur with depressing regularity. It isn't about the building codes- the ones in the statute books are said to be impressive. It is merely a matter of inspection and holding people accountable by strict enforcement and stiff penalties for violators.

For one thing, anybody can call themselves a contractor and renovation can be arranged without any kind of license or permit.  So you feel a bit cramped, you can call Ahmet- your second cousin and his brother-in-law, Cetin, and they can come and knock down a wall and voila! your bedroom is twice as large. Then a year later, the guy downstairs feels cramped and he calls his second cousin and he also knocks down a wall. After about ten years of all this illegal "deconstruction" of your apartment building, a Mac truck drives down the street and who knows where you will end up after the dust clears.

According to an article in SETimes, in 2004,

Substandard construction was also blamed for many of the deaths in two 1999 quakes in western Turkey that killed more than 18,000 people, as well as in the quake in Bingol in May 2003 that killed 176 people -- including 84 children and a teacher who were trapped in a collapsed four-storey school dormitory.

Even though poor building standards have often resulted in building collapses and high death tolls in Turkey, none of the construction companies involved has received severe penalties. One of the building contractors who faced charges of negligence, Huseyin Uygun, was later awarded a contract to restore 8,000 quake-damaged buildings.

After reading this article, one can assume Turks are firm believers in giving people a second chance. But.. really.

In Bostanli, one of the nicer sections of Izmir, there is a residential apartment building that, due to subsidence,  leans over like a drunken sailor.  In fact, I once went to a Christmas party in that very building and it was sort of like a disturbing, disorientating dream. I recall a child's ball rolling down the hallway  by itself and every walk to the bathroom was a struggle with gravity.  (More than normal, I mean, of course.)

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