Turkey in trouble
On 6 February 2023, an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 rocked the Turkish city of Gaziantep, roughly 150 miles away from the Turkey-Syria border at 4:17 a.m. local time when most people were still fast asleep in the comfort of their homes. They suddenly woke up suddenly realizing that — their homes were not safe and could not protect them as they had thought so far.
The tremors of the quake could be felt as far as Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. This was followed by a second earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 just 9 hours later (at 1:24 p.m. local time) and a third earthquake of 6.0 magnitude, leading to at least 4,300 deaths and thousands of injuries besides massive damage to over 5,775 buildings which have collapsed or reduced to rubble.
According to the country’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (AFAD), the three quakes were followed up by at least 120 aftershocks. In all, Turkey witnessed over 23 powerful earthquakes in 24 hours.
The net result is that many neighborhoods have vanished without a trace on the map. Thousands of people were rendered homeless in Turkey and Syria.
The quake wiped out entire sections of major Turkish cities. The quake created such a psychological impact that terrified residents ran out of their homes and preferred to spend the night huddling around improvised bonfires on the streets to stay alive in the sub-zero freezing temperatures. The rescue was hampered due to snowfall and blizzard that covered major roads. As a result, at least three major airports in the area were inoperable making it practically difficult to deliver much-needed essential commodities and medicines. The heaviest damage was reported in Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, where entire city blocks lay in ruins.
Raed Ahmed, the head of Syria’s National Earthquake Centre described it as “the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the center”.
The worst part of the story is that still hundreds of families are trapped under the rubble and if they are not rescued well in time – their chances of survival will be next to impossible.
Experts from the U.S. Geological Survey seismologist find the initial earthquake in Turkey similar to San Francisco’s Great Earthquake of 1906, which led to more than 3,000 deaths and ruined the entire city.
The Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) confirmed a figure of about 3,419 deaths and 20,534 injuries, while Syrian has reported 812 deaths in government-controlled areas and over 790 deaths in opposition-controlled areas. This is in addition to thousands of people who were injured, many of whom may lose their life or limb over the next few days causing the statistics of direct and indirect deaths to rise.
The death toll is expected to rise further adding a new dimension to the challenging task ahead for the rescuers trying to extricate the survivors.
The United Nations has predicted that the death toll in what is the most powerful earthquake in the last 100 years could increase to more than 20,000.
The impact of the quake was so severe that thousands of buildings have been raised to the ground trapping hundreds of people underneath.
Earthquakes are common in Turkey, but this one was different
Earthquakes are fairly common and almost an everyday affair in Turkey situated at the junction of four tectonic plates and is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries.
Thousands of earthquakes of various magnitudes happen each year. In 2021, the Turkish Disaster & Emergency Management Authority documented over 23 thousand earth tremors. However, 2017 was the worst year – with the highest number of earthquakes recorded — over 38 thousand.
But this one in 2023 was beyond imagination and broke all records– both in terms of intensity and devastation. The disaster was followed by more than 1,300 aftershocks, culminating in the second quake – which shook Düzce and Kaynasli in the north-western province of Bolu, some 100 kilometers east of Izmit for 30 seconds – at 18:57 on 12 November 1999 and rated 7.2 on the Richter scale. The jolt was felt both in Istanbul (260 km to the west) and Ankara, the Turkish capital, 300 km to the east.
Ignorance is bliss:
A 7.4 magnitude earthquake near Istanbul killed about 18,000 people in 1999.
Turkey was struck by another major earthquake magnitude of 6.7 in January 2020 that caused significant damage in the eastern part of the country and killed many people.
The same year another quake of magnitude 7.0 near the Aegean Sea killed some 114 people.
Since that day a number of experts like Turkey’s Union of Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) have been sounding the alarm on the lack of earthquake infrastructure and have been advising the Turkish government to create new construction standards, strengthen existing buildings and check vital installations like dams and bridges for cracks. However, it seems that their warning has been ignored. Even today many of these earthquake-resistant building design, construction, and inspection guidelines exist only on paper.
Some of the experts had specifically warned that densely inhabited places like Istanbul the largest city as well as Turkey’s economic, cultural, and historic hub with a population of more than 16 million people living in dilapidated, ramshackle, and unstable homes would not survive if pitted against a large quake. Curiously Istanbul the most populous city in Europe is the world’s 15th-largest city and home to almost 19% of the Turkey population.
Curiously Frank Hoogerbeets, a Dutch researcher at the Solar System Geometry Survey (SSGEOS), had Tweeted on February 3, that an earthquake of around 7.5 magnitudes will strike in the “South-Central Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon” region. Reacting to Frank’s tweet, a Twitter user wrote, “That’s some really scary and accurate prediction.”
At the end of the day, if the predictions are to be believed Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China could witness an earthquake of 5.8 magnitudes in the near future. This time India is projected to be the epicenter.
(To be continued)