Hotbed of Seismic Activity: Why Was the Turkish Earthquake So Deadly?

© SputnikDamaged vehicles after buildings collapsed in Syria's Aleppo following a powerful earthquake.
Damaged vehicles after buildings collapsed in Syria's Aleppo following a powerful earthquake. - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.02.2023
Monday morning a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Turkey and surrounding countries, causing thousands of fatalities in Turkey and bordering Syria, tens of thousands of injuries, and thousands of collapsed buildings.
The earthquake in Turkey on Monday was the deadliest since at least 1999 when a 7.4 magnitude earthquake killed more than 17,000 people. The recent quake is responsible for nearly 3,000 deaths in Turkey, per figures released by the Turkish disaster and emergency management authority - but that number is expected to continue to rise exponentially.
The World Health Organization estimates the skyrocketing death toll could increase eightfold. If true, that would make it the worst natural disaster Turkey has suffered since 1939, when a similar quake killed over 33,000 people.
But what enabled this quake to be one of the deadliest in history?

It Was Powerful

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake is a very powerful earthquake, especially for one with its epicenter on land. Most powerful earthquakes occur under the ocean, away from human civilization. Earthquakes in the ocean can be deadly by causing a tsunami, as evidenced by the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan following a 9.0 magnitude quake that shook the ocean floor nearly 45 miles off the coast, but earthquakes on land can be just as devastating.
For comparison, the costliest earthquake in US history (by the amount of damage caused) was the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. That quake registered a magnitude 6.7 on the Richter scale. Los Angeles was majorly affected by that event, which killed at least 57 people and caused up to $20 billion in damage.

Turkey Was Not Prepared

Though, maybe it should have been. Turkey is one of the most seismically-active areas in the world, sitting on the Anatolian Plate, between two major fault lines.
The earth’s surface is broken into various parts that fit together like a cosmic jigsaw puzzle. Those pieces are always rubbing against each other, shifting the ground we walk on very slowly. But sometimes the tension builds up and one or both of the plates slip, releasing an incredible amount of energy in the form of an earthquake.
Most modern cities, particularly those on significant fault lines, have strict regulations on construction, ensuring buildings don’t easily collapse during an earthquake. In Turkey’s capital city of Istanbul, most of the high-rise buildings are designed to withstand most earthquakes.
Разрушения после землетрясения в сирийском Джандарисе  - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.02.2023
Multiple Ancient, Medieval Castles And Mosques Damaged by Devastating Turkish Earthquake
That is not the case in Gaziantep, near the earthquake’s epicenter. While a major city and a provisional capital, Gaziantep is not as modern as Istanbul and many of its high-rise apartments weren’t built to the same standard, which is ultimately what caused the collapse of multiple high-rise buildings. In one video posted on social media, a building can be seen falling straight down, with the higher floors crushing the floors below it.
United States Geological Survey structural engineer Kishor Jaiswal, told the Associated Press that such “pancake” collapses are a sign that the building could not withstand the earthquake’s shakes.

Syria's Civil War

Syria also suffered significant damage and casualties from the earthquake. Turkey’s southern neighbor had at least 1,444 deaths as a result of the quake, a number that, like Turkey’s, is still expected to rise.
Разрушения после землетрясения в сирийском Азмарине  - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.02.2023
'We Are Afraid': Syrian Residents Sleeping Inside Cars Over Risk of Further Earthquakes
Syria has been embroiled in a yearslong civil war. Not only were buildings damaged from the fighting, but when Syrians rebuilt, it was done rapidly and without much oversight. This, like in Gaziantep, resulted in construction that did not consider earthquake preparedness.

Weather Hampering Rescue Efforts

On top of everything else, the weather has not been cooperating with rescue teams. When the earthquake struck, it was already snowing in Gaziantep. By the time the sun rose, the area was covered.
This, combined with freezing rain later in the day, has made rescue efforts more difficult. Roads, already damaged by the earthquake, are now covered in ice and mud. The roads that can be driven on are packed with residents trying to leave the quake-hit cities.
Worse still, most of the cities hit by the quake are without power, and videos have been posted on social media showing large fires in the country’s southern regions, thought to be caused by exploding gas lines.
All this means the death toll will likely be higher than it would have been if the earthquake occurred during the summer or a warm spell. Trapped survivors could be freezing to death, and the lack of light and electricity makes them even more difficult to find.
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