A woman leaves a carnation at the eathquake memorial in Yalova, on the southern shores of the Marmara Sea, Aug. 17. AA photo
Dozens of commemoration events have been organized across Turkey’s northwestern Marmara region on the 14th anniversary of the country’s worst seismic disaster in recent history, which killed over 17,000.
In Gölcük on the southern shores of the Marmara Sea, the epicenter of the quake, hundreds left carnations at a memorial ceremony at 3:02 a.m., the exact time of the catastrophe. Gölcük Mayor Mehmet Ellibeş said lessons should be drawn from the past as experts agreed that another strong earthquake was expected in the near future in the vicinity of Istanbul. “People did not lose their lives because of the earthquake, but the buildings [that crumbled],” he said.
Residents of the industrial city of İzmit, to the east of Istanbul, which was one of the locations most affected by the quake, also gathered at the same time at the Memorial Park.
In Yalova, also deeply affected by the quake, over 2,000 people walked with torches to commemorate those who lost their lives.
A few months ago, Turkey lost its beloved and almost prophetic “Quake Grandpa,” Ahmet Mete Işıkara, a leading seismologist who long sought to raise awareness about natural disasters well before the 1999 Marmara Earthquake. The point raised by Ellibeş, “Quakes don’t kill, buildings do,” was initially a motto that Işıkara coined when he was the head of the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute in Istanbul to stress the importance of building regulations in combating the loss of life for future quakes.
The annual commemoration is a rare opportunity to remind residents that Turkey is located in a seismic zone and that preventive measures, as well as preparations, are crucial in the quest to minimize the effect of temblors. According to a 2012 report, 83 percent of survey respondents said the buildings they in which they resided had not been inspected for earthquake preparedness. Only 12.9 percent of participants in the Marmara region said their buildings had been strengthened to withstand a temblor, but the results were even lower in the Aegean, Central Anatolian and eastern regions.
The 1999 quake of magnitude 7.5 in Turkey’s most industrial and densely populated region killed 17,480 people. Over 285,000 buildings were damaged and 600,000 were left homeless by the 45-second quake, which left social and economic wounds that took years to heal.