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Illegal construction blamed in Istanbul building collapse

ISTANBUL - Turkish officials blamed illegal construction practices for the collapse of an apartment building in Istanbul as they joined hundreds of mourners Saturday at a funeral for nine members of one family killed in the disaster.

As the overall death toll rose to 18, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there were "many lessons to learn" from the tragedy. He said the government would take "determined" steps after investigators complete their work and called for speedy urban renewal.

The eight-story residential building collapsed in the city's Kartal district Wednesday. By Saturday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu increased the death toll to 18. He said rescuers had reached another person under the rubble, who was thought to be dead.

Murat Kurum, Turkey's minister for environment and urban planning, said the collapsed building had permits for only six floors. He said someone had illegally built its top two floors with low quality concrete and sea sand instead of construction-grade concrete and stronger steel.

"In this area, we have faced a very serious problem with illegal businesses like this done to make more money," Erdogan told reporters on his first visit to the site.

Experts say a majority of buildings in Istanbul lack proper licenses and are built illegally or without engineering services. They have criticized a government decision to grant amnesty for illegal construction last year ahead of the country's general election.

Turkish cities have grown massively under Erdogan's 15 years in power. Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city of more than 15 million people, is also located on a seismic belt.

Earlier Saturday, Erdogan and other officials joined mourners at the funeral for nine members of the Alemdar family who lived in the collapsed building. Five other relatives, including two children, are among the 13 people hospitalized in the collapse. Seven of the injured were still in serious condition on Saturday.

Friends and relatives have been waiting near the apartment building for news of their missing loved ones as emergency teams, aided by sniffer dogs, worked around the clock. Fourteen people have been pulled alive from the rubble, including a 16-year-old boy on Friday.

Officials haven't disclosed how many people are still unaccounted for. The collapsed building had 14 apartments, 43 registered residents and three businesses.