1999 Turkish Earthquake
An earthquake measuring 6.8 – 7.0 on the Richter Scale.
The earthquake’s epicentre was near the industrial city of Izmit, about 55 miles east of Istanbul, Turkey.
The earthquake occurred on Tuesday, 17th August, at 3.02 a.m. local time (12 am GMT). The earthquake lasted 45 seconds.
Turkey sits between two huge tectonic plates, Eurasia and Africa/Arabia, which are grinding into one another, north to south. The Turkish landmass is a small tectonic plate which is being squeezed like a pip between the two giants. This movement has created the Anatolian fault (conservative margin). The conservative margin slipped, causing the earthquake. Many of Turkey’s major cities are located along this fault.
Population levels have been increasing rapidly in many towns and cities affected by the earthquake. People have been migrating from rural to urban areas to escape military crackdowns by the Turkish army and rush to the big city in search of a better life. Most people who move to urban areas have little money. They live crammed into desperately crowded poor housing. Many live in accommodation which they built themselves. These buildings are known locally as gecekondus. The name means built in a night. These buildings easily collapsed during the earthquake.
Those among the poor who had saved enough to move into tower blocks were most affected. Turkey has a building code which is as stringent as California’s, but it is rarely enforced. This cheaply built, illegal housing lies at the heart of the disaster, say, engineering experts. It accounts for why so many houses just crumpled like packs of cards and why older or more solid buildings remained intact.
In Turkey, the rate of urbanisation has been very high, and unfortunately, the control and supervision of building quality have not been as good as they should be. Turkey’s Chamber of Commerce estimates that some 65 per cent of all buildings are constructed without a permit or with scant attention to building regulations. More than half the population in Istanbul is living in illegal accommodation, it says.
The immediate hazards were the collapse of poorly constructed buildings (many of which did not meet Turkey’s building standards) and damage to power lines and pipes, causing fires. People were trapped in houses as they slept, and many were killed by falling masonry. In all, 17,000 people died, and over 27,000 were injured. Tidal waves flooded farmland on the coast, causing damage to crops. A fire at an oil refinery caused air pollution.
The longer-term consequences were that 200,000 people were made homeless and had to live in tents for many weeks without running water or proper sanitation. People suffered from diarrhoea due to a lack of clean water and untreated sewage-contaminated rivers killing fish.
Many countries, including the UK, The USA, Germany, France and Japan, provided Turkey with aid. The short-term aid included medical supplies, tents, blankets and Emergency Rescue Teams. In the long term, Turkey will need assistance in planning for natural disasters (education) and money to repair its infrastructure.
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