Istanbul no more prepared for earthquake than it was 1999: TMMOB head

Istanbul no more prepared for earthquake than it was 1999: TMMOB head

ISTANBUL – Doğan News Agency
Istanbul no more prepared for earthquake than it was 1999: TMMOB head Only a few days ahead of the 16th anniversary of the deadly Marmara earthquake, the head of the Istanbul branch of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) has said the city is no better prepared for an earthquake than it was back in 1999. 

“There are no places left in Istanbul to gather and put up a [natural emergency] tent. Frankly speaking, Turkey is no more ready for an earthquake than it was in 1999,” TMMOB Istanbul branch head Cemal Gökçe said on Aug. 13 during a press meeting to mark the 16th anniversary of the huge 1999 earthquake. 

Turkey was shaken by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake in the early hours of Aug. 17, 1999, whose epicenter was the Gölcük district in the northwestern province of Kocaeli. One of Turkey’s deadliest natural disasters in recent history, the earthquake led to the death of around 18,000 people and wounded almost 50,000 others. 

Commenting on the spaces reserved across the city for people to gather in the event of emergency situations, Gökçe said almost no such space remained in the city, as it has all been given away for land speculation. 

“Today, Istanbul has been handed over to shopping malls and skyscrapers. The provincial Disaster Center Council worked for three years after the 1999 Gölcük earthquake and identified 493 areas for assembly and for building tents. Today, three-quarters of these areas have been given away for land speculation, unearned income,” Gökçe said. “No space to set up tents and to gather has been left in Istanbul.”

Even though 16 years have passed since the Gölcük earthquake, serious problems also remain in consolidating old buildings and inspecting the construction of new ones, according to Gökçe.

“All our state buildings, especially our hospitals and schools, are under serious earthquake threat,” he said, adding that museums, apartments-turned-into-schools, university buildings, dormitories, and small-scale industrial facilities faced the same threat. 

“There is no chance for many hospitals, schools, clinics, and private tutoring schools to withstand a 6.5-magnitude earthquake,” Gökçe said. 

Hypothesizing about potential effects of any earthquake with a magnitude of over 6.5, TMMOB’s Istanbul head painted an apocalyptic scene, estimating that around 25 percent of the houses in Istanbul would be unusable and around two million people would be made homeless. Traffic would be chaotic for days and fires would erupt at various points with no chance to put them out, he added. 

“[The authorities] say we should go to the areas filled in [on the shorelines] in the event of a disaster. But these are actually the most dangerous places,” Gökçe said, referring to the Değirmendere filled area in Kocaeli that sank after the earthquake in 1999, leading to the death of many people gathered there.