Disasters & Accidents

Is Istanbul prepared for a big earthquake?

By Amel Pain

Istanbul, Turkey, Feb 5 (EFE).- One year after a devastating earthquake destroyed 11 provinces in southern Turkey and killed more than 50,000 people, Istanbul lives in fear of the potential impact that another major quake could have on the city of 6.5 million people.

“We predict that nearly 200,000 buildings will be damaged, that is, 1 in 6 of the (city’s) building stock, consisting of 1.2 million buildings, may be severely damaged,” said Bugra Gokce, deputy secretary general of Istanbul´s Metropolitan Municipality.

The city, located near the fault line running through the Sea of Marmara, is in an area where experts anticipate a catastrophic earthquake of magnitude 7 or higher.

While it is impossible to predict an exact date, many geophysicists agree on the possibility of a strong tremor in the Bosphorus within the next half-century.

“We can predict that around 4 to 5 million Istanbulites will lose their homes after the earthquake,” Gokce said in an interview with EPA Images (European Pressphoto Agency), partnered with EFE.

Gokce highlights that “according to the scenarios prepared together with the Kandil Observatory, we estimate that around 90,000 buildings in Istanbul will collapse in a possible earthquake. That is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. These are real numbers that we have to prepare for as possible data.”

Experts still recall the 1999 earthquake in neighboring Izmit, which killed more than 17,000 people and prompted Istanbul to require new buildings to be earthquake-resistant.

Gokce points out that “only 30%” of the city’s buildings were constructed after the regulation changes in 2000, “theoretically, more qualified structures were built (after that).”

On a municipal website, both property owners and tenants can request inspections to assess the condition of their buildings.

Citizens’ fears have driven an increase in these inspection requests: “Before the Feb. 6 earthquake, we went to 107,000 buildings and were able to inspect only 29,700 of them. After the Feb. 6 earthquakes, we received applications to inspect 160,000 of our buildings,” he added.

In April 2023, Deniz Onuk and his wife Yetkin Onuk, a retired couple from Istanbul, requested one of these building inspections to assess their house in the Maltepe district.

They both remember how the city grew rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s, seemingly without urban planning control.

The inspection resulted in a determination that the couple’s house would neeed to be completely demolished and rebuilt, but they do not trust that contractors will do a good enough job and are considering moving to Izmir, about 500 kilometers south of Istanbul, out of the way of another earthquake.

The 2023 earthquakes shook a 120,000-square-kilometer area of Turkey, equivalent to countries like Greece or Bulgaria, and Turkish authorities have labeled it the “disaster of the century.” Almost 37.000 buildings completely collapsed during the earthquake, and over 300.0000 suffered extensive damage.

At the same time , Istanbul is also preparing for the possible collapse of its transportation networks: “We have also initiated a comprehensive study to determine disaster priority of roads in transportation,” Gokce added.

“When (buildings) collapse, there is a possibility that they will fall halfway onto the road, and in this case they may cut off connection,” Gokce concludes. EFE

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