Eleven years and two days ago, the residents of Golcuk and the surrounding region in Northwestern Turkey were jarred awake by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in the middle of the night. It only took 37 seconds for nature to take away the lives of 17,000 people, and flatten the homes of nearly half a million people.
Sadly, even after such a period of time has elapsed, survivors are still haunted by the memory, and frequently taunted by subsequent earthquakes. I experienced one myself while recently on holiday in Ayvalik. Granted, it was merely a 4.8 and we were removed from the epicenter, yet I was awakened by the rattling and shaking of my bed.
Earthquake forecasters predict that another major earthquake will hit the Marmara area within the next 30 years--some claim even sooner. Its anticipated impact is devastating, particularly if the earthquake strikes along the fault line near Istanbul, one of the largest fault lines on the planet. According to an article in Hurriyet Daily News, 40% of all structures in Istanbul would be damaged, and 2% would completely collapse with an earthquake of a magnitude higher than 7. That means 20,000 buildings collapsing and 200,000 damaged--killing an estimated 200,000-300,000 people. Some research predicts even greater destruction, claiming more than 40,000 damaged buildings!
Even one look at the tectonic map of Turkey can give one a clearer picture of why there is so much seismic activity. It's startling (pun intended) to have a look at the list of minor tremors that have occurred even in the past month. Yet other places in the world experience such shifts in the plates, with notably less damage. Who's to blame?
The fault lies (again, pun intended--I recognize that earthquakes are really no laughing matter) in the fault lines themselves. Secondly, the mass of illegally constructed houses and buildings whose construction workers have ignored building codes are also accountable. Fortunately, after the devastation in 1999, construction firms began to adhere more closely to such laws, realizing the consequences of not doing so. That begs the question: What is being done to prepare (obviously we can't prevent) Turkey's residents for another potential disaster?
Yes, there are education programs for children, teaching them how to handle the aftershocks (uh, I'm sorry--these puns are just too easy). Yes, the Istanbul Municipality has established logistics and response centers, and started to reinforce bridges and buildings throughout the city. Sadly, as far as I can see, everyone has been doing their best to prepare for the unexpected. Since such a disaster seems inevitable, all we can do now is pray for minimal damage.