At least 10 missing in Turkey building collapse

A two-storey building packed with shoppers and diners collapsed in eastern Turkey on Tuesday, burying at least 10 people under heavy debris.

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

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.

Ambulances rushed 13 people to hospital as rescuers searched for signs of life under piles of debris spilling across one of Malatya’s main thoroughfares.

Regional governor Aydin Barus said around 20 people were believed to be inside the building when it crumbled shortly before 5 pm.

More than six hours after rescue operations began, around 10 people were still trapped, Turkish media reported.

Two of the 13 injured people taken to hospital required intensive care while three were discharged after escaping with bumps and bruises, Barus said.

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.

“It is a very busy street. As far as I know, some of the people were injured while passing by the building.”

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 late Tuesday.

– 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, under bright lights installed as the night set in.

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 communications director Fahrettin Altun said the state and regional authorities had fully mobilised in the latest search and rescue mission.

“Our prayers and hearts are with our Malatya brothers and sisters,” Altun tweeted.

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.

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