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Volunteers in Turkey are collecting evidence of poor construction after the quakes

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Turkey, there is public anger over unsafe construction practices after the earthquakes last month caused thousands of deadly building collapses. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports that, in addition to people digging through the rubble, there are volunteers collecting evidence, including some social media influencers using their platforms.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Journalist Yasemin Candemir used to cover women's rights. But after facing pressure not to publish sensitive stories, she turned to posting beauty advice on Instagram - things like face mists and vitamin E. She knew that, as her followers grew, she could someday turn their attention to pressing matters.

YASEMIN CANDEMIR: (Through interpreter) I may be quiet for some time, but I raise my voice when it is needed.

ESTRIN: Now, she's one of many in Turkey from different walks of life using their social media accounts to spread awareness about the shoddy construction practices behind many of the buildings that collapsed in last month's earthquake. She spoke to us on Zoom from her apartment in Istanbul. She says she began investigating collapsed buildings by contacting local reporters in the earthquake zone and asking them to send her information on contractors and building inspectors. Relatives of earthquake victims also started contacting Candemir.

CANDEMIR: (Through interpreter) A young man whose father died reached me.

ESTRIN: The man's father was one of eight people killed when his building collapsed in Gaziantep. The building's contractor was arrested.

CANDEMIR: (Through interpreter) I told him, go there and take pictures. Try to take detailed pictures. Then, send them all to me. I'll show some of the technical details to a friend who is a civil engineer.

(SOUNDBITE OF EARTHMOVER MOVING RUBBLE)

ESTRIN: I also visited the site of that destroyed building.

These two hulking earthmovers are collecting enormous piles of rebar. It's not ribbed. These are - this is just smooth. I wonder if that's a sign of cheap construction material.

(SOUNDBITE OF EARTHMOVER MOVING RUBBLE)

ESTRIN: I took photos and sent them to Candemir. She sent them to a civil engineer, who said it actually wasn't rebar at all. It was substandard building material.

Candemir isn't the only one collecting evidence. The Turkish Bar Association has an app called a Rubble Radar. Survivors can use it to upload photos of collapsed buildings. Lawyers are preparing a raft of lawsuits.

CANDEMIR: (Speaking Turkish).

ESTRIN: Candemir says she's investigated more than 60 buildings and has found some patterns. She says most of the collapsed buildings she's researched were new luxury apartment complexes, built in the last decade, when the government privatized building inspections. Till recently, contractors could pay companies to inspect their buildings. She says the system was prone to corruption. And she says she's traced contractors' connections with local municipalities and Turkey's ruling party. The government says it's making arrests and investigating hundreds of suspects connected to building collapses, but Candemir says responsibility lies with how the country is run now, with power concentrated at the top. She says in English...

CANDEMIR: If you ask who is responsible, I will say the one who broke away from the parliamentary and democratic system. It is a form of management based on a single person, without a control mechanism.

ESTRIN: There could be consequences to voicing such criticism. Turkish media report that local broadcasters were fined for airing criticism of the government's earthquake preparation. Candemir says Instagram trolls threatened to report her to the government. I asked her why she's determined to keep posting about building wreckage.

CANDEMIR: Wake up the Turkish people.

ESTRIN: To wake up the Turkish people.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.

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