(CNN) — Nearly 200 people have been detained for allegedly poor construction of buildings following the catastrophic earthquake that struck Turkey earlier this month, according to the country’s Justice Ministry.

Around 50,000 people died in Turkey and Syria after the earthquake on February 6.

The ministry said 626 people were “suspected” after buildings collapsed completely or were badly damaged in the quakes. Some of the suspects died in the quake, while police are still searching for others.

On Saturday, Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag stated that evidence had been collected from thousands of buildings.

More than 5,700 buildings have collapsed in Turkey, according to the country’s disaster agency, and questions have been raised about the integrity of the structures in parts of the affected regions.

“What is most striking is the type of landslides, what we call the pancake landslide, which is the kind of landslide that we engineers don’t like to see,” said Mustafa Erdik, a professor of earthquake engineering at the University of Bogazici from Istanbul. “In these types of cave-ins, it’s difficult, as you can see, and very tragic to save lives. It makes it very difficult for search and rescue teams to operate.”

Erdik also told CNN that images of widespread destruction and rubble indicate “there are very variable qualities of designs and construction.” According to him, the type of structural failures that occur after an earthquake are usually partial collapses. “Total collapses are something that is always tried to be avoided both in the codes and in the actual design,” he added.

A man-made disaster?

Following previous catastrophes, building codes were tightened, which should have ensured that modern buildings could withstand major tremors. However, many of the damaged buildings in the affected region appeared to be of new construction. Residents and experts are now wondering if the government did not take the necessary steps to enforce building regulations.

Yasemin Didem Aktas, structural engineer and professor at University College London, told CNN that while the earthquake and its aftershocks were “a very powerful event that would test even code-compliant buildings”, the extent of the damage indicates that the buildings were not up to safety standards.

“What we see here tells us without a doubt that something is wrong with those buildings, and it may be that they were not designed to code in the first place, or that the execution was not designed properly,” Didem Aktas said.

Several critics also question the periodic approval by the Turkish government of so-called “construction amnesties”, basically legal exemptions that, upon payment, forgive developers the construction of projects without the necessary safety requirements.

The amnesties were designed to legalize substandard old buildings that had been built without the proper permits. Nor did they oblige developers to adapt their properties to the standards.

CNN’s Lauren Said-Moorehouse, Christian Edwards, Krystina Shveda and Henrik Pettersson contributed to this article.


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