On Monday morning, Turkey woke up to a disastrous tragedy. At 4:17 a.m. local time, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit near Gaziantep, a city in Southern Turkey, with 120 recorded aftershocks following in the next 12 hours. The earthquake was named the deadliest in a decade, with casualties in Turkey and Syria surpassing the 10,000 mark.
This is not the first big earthquake Turkey has faced, yet it is one of the deadliest. Growing up in Turkey, I was always warned and taught about how dangerous earthquakes can be. From classes to television, there was always a voice telling us how to place our furniture, prepare earthquake emergency kits, and countless drills in case tragedy ever struck.
The 1999 Izmit earthquake, still deeply mourned, was the biggest earthquake in Turkey I knew about growing up, causing almost 20,000 deaths, and collapsing over 100,000 buildings. My mother was pregnant with me at the time, and she was still so terrified when I became old enough to understand what an earthquake is. The danger and horror of earthquakes are deeply understood by the Turkish people, there has been more than enough suffering to take earthquake preparation seriously. So how did over 6,000 buildings collapse once again, more than 20 years later?
The morning of the earthquake, geoscientist, Naci Görür, went on live television, unable to hide his despair.
“I was woken up at 4 a.m. in the morning, I cried for an hour, and I am still crying. It’s the place we have been warning about for years. Not a single local authority called to ask what they can do. Why did we give all these warnings?” he said.
Görür’s perspective is one that suggests that the right preparation and inspection could have at least decreased the scope of the disaster that struck the morning of Feb. 6th.
In an interview with The Guardian, Dr. Henry Bang, a geologist and disaster management expert explained what could have caused so many buildings to collapse in different ways.
“Those whose walls have crumbled to the ground are probably very old buildings that were built with relatively weaker building materials. The [multi] story buildings that have collapsed like a pack of cards were probably not built with earthquake-resistant design features,” said Bang.
After the 1999 earthquake, many pointed their fingers at the outdated building codes that were still in place. So, Turkey introduced modern building codes hoping to be better prepared next time.
The problem is there are many ways to cheat, like replacing reinforcing rods with styrofoam or using outdated procedures. Whether the inspections that are supposed to take place inside these buildings were conducted regularly still remains a question, and one thing stands true: the contractors that chose to cheat the system for extra cash now carry the responsibility for the thousands of lives that were lost in the earthquake.
While measurements and preparation play a big part in earthquake management, Turkey still sits in a highly seismically active area, making the natural disaster almost non-avoidable. In an interview with Scientific American, Ross Stein, CEO of the catastrophe modelling company Temblor, explains that Turkey is squeezed by a giant tectonic vise, meaning that the country is being forced outward to the west, spilling into the Mediterranean and ultimately being pushed beneath Crete in a subduction zone similar to the one seen off of Japan.
In earthquake-affected cities, search and rescue efforts are still ongoing. Donating and spreading secure assembly locations and helpful information can go a long way toward helping the survivors.