2 Aug 2008

Eightienth body found in collapsed Turkish school

9:26 pm on 2 August 2008

The body of a 13-year-old girl was recovered from the rubble of a collapsed boarding school in central Turkey on Saturday, bringing the death toll to 18.

The three-storey building outside Taskent, in the province of Konya, collapsed on Friday after a gas leak from kitchen pipes caused a powerful explosion.

The Turkish press lashed out at the authorities over the disaster as it emerged the building was not properly inspected.

Students say they smelt gas as they woke up early for morning prayers and alerted their teachers.

"My granddaughter said the explosion occurred when someone turned the lights on," says Dudu Gunes, whose granddaughter survived with serious burns.

The victims were a teacher and 17 students aged between eight and 16, mostly daughters of poor rural families.

One of the girls described how the explosion sent a wall of flame through the dormitory.

"A strong whistling sound came up from the ground floor. I went into the kitchen with two teachers and one of them said, a gas pipe has broken," Merve Avci, 13, says.

"Five minutes later a strong gas smell took over the dormitories followed by the deafening explosion. We felt the flames rise up around us," she says.

An engineers' association says its initial examination of the rubble indicated shoddy construction, which is widespread in Turkey and blamed for heavy death tolls in accidents and earthquakes that frequently rock the country.