New York Daily News: By Peter Sblendorio – The death toll from the devastating earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria nearly a week ago exceeded 33,000 on Sunday as authorities made three arrests in connection with collapsed buildings.

Among those arrested was a building contractor, identified as Yavuz Karakus, along with two people accused of removing columns to create space in a building that toppled in Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, according to the Anadolu news agency in Turkey.

My conscience is clear,” Karakus told reporters Sunday. “I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules.”

More than 92,000 people were injured in the quake, which destroyed thousands of buildings across southeastern Turkey and northern Syria.

Responders continue to search for people trapped beneath building debris. A pregnant woman and two children were rescued Sunday.

The confirmed death toll has steadily climbed, with severe winter weather and damaged roads complicating the rescue efforts.

Some critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claim the country wasn’t sufficiently prepared for the earthquake, while others contend the government’s emergency response has been too slow.

“For three days, I waited outside for help. No one came,” one survivor, Elif Busra Ozturk, said Saturday. Her aunt and uncle were believed to be dead beneath a building in the Turkish city of Adiyaman, while the bodies of two of her cousins were recovered.

“There were so few rescue teams that they could only intervene in places they were sure there were people alive,” she said.

Rescue workers pull a 23-year-old man from the rubble of a collapsed building in Antakya, Turkey, on Sunday.
Rescue workers pull a 23-year-old man from the rubble of a collapsed building in Antakya, Turkey, on Sunday – Petros Giannakouris/AP Photo

Erdogan admitted last week to issues with the initial response but said the search-and-rescue efforts had improved.

“It is not possible to be prepared for such a disaster,” Erdogan said during a tour of hard-hit cities. “We will not leave any of our citizens uncared for.”

Last week, the director-general of the World Health Organization described the rescue efforts as a “race against time.”

“Every minute, every hour that passes, the chances of finding survivors alive diminishes,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“Continued aftershocks, severe winter conditions, damage to roads, power supplies, communications and other infrastructure continue to hamper access and other search and rescue efforts.”

With News Wire Services

Top Feature Photo: Emergency teams search for people in the rubble of a destroyed building in Adana, southern Turkey, on Tuesday – Hussein Malla/AP Photo