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11 years after Marmara earthquake, is Istanbul any better prepared?

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 8/16/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Despite a costly effort to ready the city for a major earthquake, Istanbul is scarcely better prepared for a devastating tremor than it was when the Marmara earthquake hit 11 years ago.

Despite spending 1.1 billion Turkish Liras to get ready for a major earthquake, Istanbul is scarcely better prepared for a devastating tremor than it was when the Marmara earthquake hit 11 years ago Tuesday, critics have said.

Calling for a national-level “Earthquake Undersecretariat,” a leading engineer said efforts to mitigate earthquake damage are not being carried out in a comprehensive, coordinated manner, the Anatolia news agency reported Monday.

“Neither local nor central administrators are taking [precautions against natural disasters] into consideration,” Dündar Çağlan, the head of the Chamber of Geology Engineers, a part of the Turkish Union of Engineers’ and Architects’ Chambers, or TMMOB, said at a press conference in Ankara.

“We keep talking, but so far there is no master plan,” Orhan Turan, the chairman of the Association of Turkish Building-Material Producers, or İMSAD, said last week. “Most of the residences built after 1999 are strong enough to resist earthquakes, but the rest of them are weak, so we need a master plan and a defined budget to restructure the old buildings.”

More on quakes
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Deadly 1999 earthquake to be remembered in Turkey's northwest

The Marmara region was last hit by a major earthquake Aug. 17, 1999. The tremor, which measured a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale and had its epicenter in the northwestern province of Kocaeli, about 70 kilometers from Istanbul, killed nearly 17,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage, according to official figures. The worst-hit Istanbul district was Avcılar, which was built on infill and sits on the fault line extending across the Marmara Sea. The next major earthquake is expected to hit within 30 years.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality says it has stepped up preparations, establishing two disaster stockpiles and a logistics center able to provide food for 250,000 people on a daily basis as well as a portable kitchen that can feed 20,000 people a day. It has installed 4,450 new fire hydrants, set up 2,500 emergency healthcare units and built 71 new heliports, while also preparing a variety of risk maps, establishing a satellite communication system, boosting the number of earthquake monitoring stations and starting work on reinforcing bridges, viaducts and buildings around the city.

The city’s Zeytinburnu district is the subject of the first urban-transformation study within the framework of the municipality’s earthquake-preparation project and will see 60,000 new, earthquake-proof buildings built over a five-year period.

According to a recent study conducted by three universities, 42,500 of the 146,987 buildings in the six Istanbul districts surveyed are at risk in the event of an earthquake, with the Güngören and Bahçelievler districts facing potential damage to 77 percent of their structures.

Forty percent of all buildings throughout Istanbul would be damaged and 2 percent would completely collapse in the event of an earthquake with a magnitude higher than 7, said Professor Mustafa Erdik, head of the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute. He believes the city will be hit by a quake of at least that strength, the Doğan news agency reported Monday.

In the event of such a tremor, Erdik said, some 20,000 buildings across the city would collapse, and 200,000 would be damaged, killing an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people.

Illegally constructed housing compounds the risk of damage, but so do the lower standards for public firms compared to private ones, according to Ayhan Paksoy, head of the acting board of the Turkish Ready Mixed Concrete Association, or THBB. He said buildings constructed by the state or firms such as the Housing Development Administration, or TOKİ, will be the first to crumble in the event of an earthquake, the Anatolia news agency reported Monday.

In order to be prepared for an earthquake, existing buildings that are not earthquake-resistant must be strengthened; where this is not possible, the buildings should be demolished, Professor Erçin Kasapoğlu from Hacettepe University’s Natural Disasters Research and Application Center said in a written statement, Anatolia reported Monday.

The government should start its preparations with public buildings and state schools, but it does not have the funds or the means to undertake the entire effort alone, Kasapoğlu said, adding that building owners should have to provide compulsory earthquake-resistance reports instead of carrying earthquake insurance.

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