ISTANBUL — Just after 4 a.m. Wednesday morning, a powerful earthquake struck a city east of Istanbul, sparking fears another could hit the city of 16 million and questions about the country’s preparedness.
The epicenter of the 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit the city of Golyaka in Duzce province, 170 kilometers from Istanbul. Around 80 people were injured, said the Turkish civil protection authority. Two people reportedly died of heart attacks.
The quake was felt in Istanbul and even in Edirne near the Greek border and Izmir on the west coast.
The place brought back memories of deadly earthquakes that struck the region in 1999, when around 800 people died in Duzce. Three months earlier, more than 17,000 people died when a 7.6-magnitude quake struck Kocaeli, east of Istanbul.
Although substantial earthquake preparations were recommended following the 1999 disasters, experts have frequently warned of the ongoing risks of a large quake hitting a population center as large as Istanbul, which lies on the North Anatolian fault line. Researchers predict there is a 95% chance that a magnitude 7.0 earthquake or stronger will hit the city in the next 70 years.
According to the latest version of the Istanbul Earthquake Master Plan, released in 2018, an estimated 194,000 buildings would be severely damaged or destroyed by a tremor of this magnitude. It would make more than 10% of the city’s residents homeless.
The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects sounded the alarm about the country’s housing stock, saying in a statement on Wednesday, “Unfortunately, our country has failed in terms of what needs to be done before the earthquake” and “It is imperative The planning.” -, construction and inspection processes are carried out correctly and vigorously to ensure the safety of buildings against earthquakes. With each of these three pillars of safe building, there are known to be serious problems, both legally and in practice.”
At construction sites across the country, construction supervision “is still seen only as a paper-based process,” the union added, explaining that more than 90% of Turkey’s 85 million population lived in an earthquake-prone area, but at earthquake magnitude There is no resistance in the building stock and it is “uncertain how the structures will be affected in the event of a possible major earthquake”. The statement said that “no serious progress” had been made since 1999.
Some of the most vulnerable buildings are unregulated buildings built over the past few decades to house the city’s growing population. The government has responded to this irregular development by offering zoning amnesties. Most recently, in February 2019, applications were received for 7.4 million illegal buildings.
The Engineers’ and Architects’ Union called for the scrapping of such plans, which encourage illegal construction by retrospectively legalizing dangerous buildings.
“One of the most important issues is the zone amnesty,” which could happen again next year as elections approach, geophysics professor Ovgun Ahmet Ercan said. “The granting of the zone amnesty, which was previously made, means that uncontrolled illegal structures are legalized by giving money to the state.”
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu urged the government to urgently sit down with his government to formulate a comprehensive earthquake plan.
“Let’s get together in Ankara, sit down and talk,” he said at the opening of a train maintenance facility in Istanbul. “Today there are almost 150,000 buildings in Istanbul that are in urgent need of rehabilitation. … We will do this kind of work together with courage.”
Wednesday’s quake came just over a week after a nationwide earthquake drill. After the exercise, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Turkey was in a “better position than many developed countries” in terms of disaster management, particularly disaster response.
But Naci Gorur, a geology professor and a member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences, said the country, which is riddled with seismic fault lines, needs a better long-term earthquake strategy.
“Our guides are at the site of the earthquake. They make statements about damage and losses [but] A few hours later, the earthquake is forgotten and we go back home as if nothing happened,” he said. “A day or two later, the agenda changes completely.”
He added: “We have few victims today, but who can guarantee that tomorrow there won’t be thousands?” and “If you make your houses earthquake-proof, you will not suffer much damage from the earthquake. If you take scientists seriously, according to their predictions, prepare and take precautions. You will ensure the safety of our people.”