Monday, February 15, 2010


Strong quake will decimate Istanbul, new scenario says

August 21, 1999: Residents stand atop a collapsed building in the city of Gölcük, 100 kilometers east of Istanbul. That quake, known as the Marmara quake, killed thousands of people in western Turkey. AP Photo

August 21, 1999: Residents stand atop a collapsed building in the city of Gölcük, 100 kilometers east of Istanbul. That quake, known as the Marmara quake, killed thousands of people in western Turkey. AP Photo

A strong earthquake could kill up to 32,000 people if it strikes Istanbul, according to a quake scenario published by the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate.

Like many areas of Turkey, Istanbul lies close to major fault lines and has been previously hit by fatal quakes several times.

Another 81,828 people could be badly injured and more than a million could be left homeless in the event of a quake measuring at least 7 on the Richter scale with an epicenter in the Marmara Sea, according to the scenario, which was published last week.

The scenario was drafted by Professor Bülent Özmen, an academic from Gazi University in Ankara, and submitted to the Parliamentary Earthquake Research Committee by Murat Nurlu, the head of the Earthquake Directorate.

According to the scenario, 96 percent of Turkey faces a risk of quakes of varying strengths and 66 percent of the country lies on active fault lines.

The report stressed that the seismic hazard for regions where 70 percent of the country’s population lives and 75 percent of the areas hosting huge industry zones could be “tremendously” high.

According to the report, 223 devastating quakes hit Turkey between the years 1900 and 2009, killing a total of 86,000 people and either leveling or badly damaging 549,000 buildings.

The latest scenario envisions an earthquake with its epicenter in the Marmara Sea along the North Anatolian Fault Line, a major active geologic fault in northern Anatolia that runs along the tectonic boundary between the Anatolian and Eurasian plates. A strong quake measuring over 7 on the Richter scale is expected to hit Istanbul in this region.

The report did not provide a forecast time for an earthquake. Experts have previously said there is a 50 percent chance of a quake with a magnitude of at least 7 hitting the city within the next 30 years.

According to a report submitted by the Japan International Agency, or JICA, to Istanbul’s provincial council, a strong quake could kill up to 90,000 people living in Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city.

The survey, conducted by four Japanese and 10 Turkish scientists and a team of engineers, stated that material damage could be $40 billion if there were a 7.7-magnitude earthquake in the city.

The provincial council had envisioned a an earthquake master plan to cope with a critical quake scenario. The council assessed the strength of buildings and pulling them down or reinforcing them if necessary.

Some 18,000 people, 1,000 of them in Istanbul, were killed in a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in northwest Turkey in August 1999.


I get the sense that the earthquake in Haiti did not deeply register here in Turkey. A few people noticed it, but I have the feeling it was not on the news 24 hours a day. It didn't really sink in. I was told when I got back that the news coverage was light, and focused mainly on the small Turkish Red Crescent delegation sent in the immediate aftermath.

It's normal that I paid attention to it more than most people -- my family was there, after all. But it also reflects some of the pathologies of Turkish culture. As a friend of mine noted, Turks don't really believe in something unless it's happening right in front of them. Most Turks think day-to-day, not long-term -- you can observe this in many aspects of Turkish economic development. The emphasis, on both the personal and national level, is rarely on long-term investment (as opposed to get-rich-quick schemes). And there is a doggedly stubborn inability to view risk rationally or solve problems cooperatively.

An engineer I spoke to the other day described one of the problems of doing retrofitting: It's costly, of course, but not as costly as a $40 billion dollars worth of post-quake cleanup. The issue is not so much the cost (if you look at it in that way, which is to say, rationally), but that to retrofit a building, you have to evacuate the inhabitants for six months. You could substantially reduce the costs through economies of scale -- retrofitting whole neighborhoods at a time. But trust in the government here is so low that were it announced, "We will make your buildings safe, but we need you to evacuate them for six months," no one would believe this was really the genuine intention. People would assume their property was to be permanently appropriated and sold to rich developers.

They might not even be wrong.

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