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1 year later, Turkey's earthquake victims live in tents, awaiting permanent housing

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

People in southern Turkey are marking a year since earthquakes there killed more than 50,000 people and left more than 3 million without safe housing. Turkey's president has promised nearly 320,000 homes would be ready by now. NPR's Peter Kenyon went to one of the hardest-hit cities and brings back this report.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: 47-year-old Amina Torenja (ph) is living in a plastic container in a chilly camp in Antakya. After her house was destroyed last winter, she traveled with her husband and sons looking for shelter and work. She says she's hanging on day to day.

(CROSSTALK)

AMINA TORENJA: (Through interpreter) To be frank, life is not that easy here because we lived in big rooms before the earthquake. And after, we came to this narrow container and I am sick. I went to the hospital today. I'm having a hard time breathing. I feel my heart beating fast. So today I am outside.

KENYON: I met 19-year-old Nuriye (ph) at one of Antakya farmers markets. She says her family house was classified as only lightly damaged on February 6, but she doesn't feel safe there.

NURIYE: (Through interpreter) Well, I don't feel great about the situation. If another earthquake happens, our two-story house will likely collapse. They say it's slightly damaged, but still we're scared. I don't think the columns are sturdy. We have a tent outside the house. When it shakes, we go outside.

KENYON: Nuriye's family went to Nevsehir in central Anatolia. She wasn't sure what she'd find when they returned. But now that she's seen Antakya, she doesn't think she can stay.

NURIYE: (Through interpreter) I used to hang out with friends. There were all sorts of places on these old Antakya streets, cultural activities. Now it's all gone. We are in bad shape. To be frank, I want to leave here. I want to go.

KENYON: In the months after the earthquake, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to rebuild some 650,000 homes, 319,000 of them in the first year. That timetable now looks unrealistic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY RUNNING)

KENYON: I noticed some new buildings on the drive into Antakya, but here in the city center, heavy machinery is still demolishing apartment blocks. A report from Erdogan's office last spring put the overall cost of the earthquake at more than $103 billion. Independent economists put the cost at some $150 billion over a five-year period.

Some critics worry about both the pace and quality of the reconstruction. Mustafa Ozcelik, head of the Turkish Chamber of Architects, points out that this one-year rapid reconstruction push doesn't even include the heavily damaged city center. He also says the government should have built better temporary housing for people instead of opting for permanent housing, which takes longer to build. The effort so far, he says, doesn't come close to meeting the need.

MUSTAFA OZCELIK: (Through interpreter) They're building 40,000 houses. The need is for 290,000. They should have built good, temporary housing. People are living miserable lives and shipping containers because there's no way they can quickly deliver so many permanent buildings.

KENYON: Had they done things properly, Ozcelik says, they would have had more time to analyze what went wrong last year and how to prevent it from happening again. Instead, he says, the new houses run the same risk of being built without proper safety inspections, which he refers to as audits, because the government farmed that crucial job out to the private sector.

OZCELIK: (Through interpreter) So the government may be in charge, but the problem is the company doing the audit is a private, for-profit firm. The work they do is a public responsibility, but their main focus is to make a profit.

KENYON: Meanwhile, experts point to other looming problems, not least in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, where officials say an estimated 90,000 structures are at risk of collapse in the event of a major earthquake.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF TASMAN'S "WHEN I FALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.