Earthquake is not destiny...

Earthquake is not destiny...

Sığacık, Seferihisar, İzmir... We have all fallen into great pain together.

Can it be possible to say “History keeps on repeating itself” if indeed lessons were learned from past experiences?

A grandfather, who lost a grandson but survived a quake in the eastern province of Erzincan, could not stay in the city, and the family dispersed all around the country. The grandfather settled in İzmir, became a contractor, and erected an apartment building in the name of his grandson that he lost in the quake. History keeps on repeating itself. On the ground floor, large windows and a spacious area was required for a teahouse. No one bothered with the static system of the building. What might be the importance of horizontal and vertical support systems? Would a huge building collapse if one or two were sacrificed?

After the earthquake of 1999, the discussion of “structural fatigue” had begun, like elsewhere in the country. A report showed that there were some serious “structural deficiencies in the building. Most of the residents of the flats in the building were not land-owners, they were tenants. The owners of the flats met in the bright café with a large hall illuminated with large glass windows on the ground floor. They said it would be “expensive” and “we can’t handle” investing “so much” in the improvement of the structural strength of the building. The apartment management resigned, saying, “I can’t bear that responsibility if the building collapses…” The municipality also said there was a serious “structural fatigue” and that the building needed to be strengthened.

And then what? Nothing. Why would it be? Why would it cost you money? It’s covered outside the building with insulation foam and paint, no cracks, no sign of decay was visible anymore. So, the residents of the building handled the situation with makeup...

But, one day, an earthquake hit. The epicenter was off the Seferihisar coast in the sea close to the Samos island. There was damage in Seferihisar. There was a tsunami at Sığacık, the first of such an event recorded in modern times in Turkey. There was damage to some buildings but excluding a woman who lost her life in tsunami, losses were rather limited. But in İzmir, the situation was very tragic.

Was the quake measuring 6.6 or 7 on the Richter scale? Who cares? One academic commented that a magnitude 6.6 quake was very much like the area that was hit by two atomic bombs, while a magnitude 7 quake was very much like 40 atomic bombs exploded there. But was it the magnitude of the quake that killed so many people?

One said two atomic bombs, the other 40 atomic bombs, but not the magnitude of the earthquake, but the buildings that were destroyed and the citizens we lost are important to us. Our losses have already reached 83, hope is not lost, but we don’t even know how many more people are under the debris. Our fear is that our losses will increase further.

This issue should not be made political material. It’s not time to ask what happened to the earthquake taxes, nor it is the day to ask, “What have you ever done against earthquakes over the past decades?” We’re all hurt. This is a national disaster, a major trauma that requires all of us to be united.

This wound will, of course, be over gradually. İzmir and all the settlements hit by the earthquake will soon leave behind this great trauma and walk to good days. However, if no measures are taken, and cities, towns and villages are not prepared according to the reality of earthquakes, both in terms of building stock, gathering areas, infrastructure and such, unfortunately, the earthquake pain will continue to be in our destiny.

Experts warn of an Istanbul earthquake. God forbid. However, Turkey is an earthquake-prone country and since 1999 all experts have been warning of an Istanbul earthquake that might affect the largest city of the country in “30 years of time.” So, what measures have been taken? How are the gathering places? What about the emergency response stations that have supposedly been set up? Does anyone know where they are? Would the buildings be strengthened?

You know how we said, “Earthquakes don’t kill, bad buildings kill?” All the buildings around it were standing tall, and the buildings with structural fatigue became graves for the inhabitants. If we’re not learning from our experiences, can we say that earthquakes are not really in our destiny?