A combination of factors caused the high mortality from the earthquake that struck Turkey early Monday morning and Syria.
At least 2,300 people died in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the border between the two countries, a balance that was growing as the hours passed.
The location, the time it occurred, the distant background and some lax security measures at the time of construction help explain this balance.
Was the strongest earthquake happened in turkey since 1939and hit a populated region.
It happened at dawn, at 04:17 local time, which is why it surprised the population sleeping.
The vast majority of the victims “were trapped when their houses collapsed,” said Roger Musson, a researcher for the British Geological Survey.
The construction methods “they weren’t really suitable for an area prone to large earthquakes,” explained this expert.
The fracture line where the seismic movement occurred has been relatively calm in recent times.
Turkey is one of the most active seismic regions in the world. An earthquake in the Duzce region, in 1999, caused more than 17,000 deaths.
This time the quake struck at the other end of the country, on what is known as the East Anatolian fault.
This region had not experienced an earthquake greater than magnitude 7 in more than 200 years. Probably for this reason, its inhabitants “were negligent,” Musson explained.
And because of that long period of relative quiet, the power of the fault “was building up,” Musson explained.
The region suffered another 7.5-magnitude tremor 7.5 hours later, which would confirm that a lot of power had been built up that needed to be released, he added.
Repeat of the 1822 earthquake
On August 13, 1822, this same area suffered an “almost equal” hit, with an earthquake that reached a magnitude of 7.4.
It caused “enormous damage, with cities completely in ruins and tens of thousands of casualties,” Musson said.
The aftershocks lasted until June of the following year, he explained.
In addition, the epicenter of the earthquake on Monday was relatively shallow, just 17.9 kilometers, and was located in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, where about two million people live.
The Arabian tectonic plate moved north. “Having no space, it collides” with the Anatolian plate. This rubbing reverberates throughout the entire fault, explains this expert.
The epicenter is not as important in this case as the extension of the telluric movement, over 100 kilometers.
“That means that, within that margin of 100 kilometers along the fault, everything” suffers the consequences of the tremor, he added.
And earthquakes also cannot be predicted, said Carmen Solana, a volcanologist at the University of Portsmouth in Britain.
“Adapted infrastructures are scarce in southern Turkey and especially in Syria, so now the priority is to save lives,” recalled this expert.
Turkey had passed legislation in 2004 to strengthen construction criteria, after the 1999 earthquake.
In Syria, because of the war, the situation is probably worse. “Many structures had already been weakened by a decade of war,” recalled Bill McGuire, a volcanologist at University College London.
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