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Why the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have been so deadly and devastating

Thousands of people have died after a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border early Monday morning.

The quake, which had its epicenter near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, was followed hours later by a new 7.5 magnitude tremor.

Both have left extensive devastated areas where it is feared that dozens of citizens are trapped under the rubble.

On Monday night there were, according to preliminary figures, more than 4,300 deaths and thousands of injuries.

Why have they been so deadly and hit both countries so hard? We tell you in this note.


the magnitude

Both have been large earthquakes.

The one near Gaziantep was estimated at 7.8, rated as “greater” within the official magnitude scale.

But also his focus was relatively shallow, only about 18 kilometers inland. This causes it to affect the surface much more and, therefore, implies more damage to structures and buildings.


“Of the deadliest earthquakes in any given year, in the last 10 years there have only been two of an equivalent magnitude (to that of this Monday). And only four similar ones if we go back to the previous decade,” says Professor Joanna Faure Walker, Director of the Institute for Disaster and Risk Reduction at University College London.

But it’s not just the power of the tremor that causes devastation.

No seismic alarm

This event occurred in the early hours of the morning, when the people were indoors and sleeping.

And, in this case, the country lacks a Mexico-style seismic warning system, where sensors permanently monitor the movements of the earth and, when they detect one that could become an earthquake of 6 degrees on the Richter scale, they immediately emit a radio signal.

In the case of Mexico City, it reaches a central station that retransmits it to radio and television stations and is even in applications for cell phones.

These seconds notice can make a difference and that people manage to get out of their homes and get safe.

unsound buildings

The type of buildings, their height and robustness are also determining factors for an earthquake to be more or less deadly.

Dozens of buildings were left in rubble. GETTY IMAGES Photo: BBC World

“Unfortunately, it’s very rare to have resilient infrastructure in southern Turkey and especially in Syria. Right now, saving more lives depends on a quick response. The next 24 hours are crucial to finding survivors. After 48 hours the number of survivors drops dramatically,” says Carmen Solana, associate professor of volcanology and risk communication at the University of Portsmouth.

But, in addition, this earthquake occurs in a region where It had been more than 200 years since there had been an earthquake of this magnitude and there hasn’t even been any warning sign during this time, so the level of preparation is lower than in an area that is used to tremors.

Even so, Arancha Izquierdo, a seismologist with the National Seismic Network of Spain, points out that “for a magnitude of 7.8 it is very difficult to build something that resists it, almost all constructions are not prepared.”

Why do earthquakes occur?

The Earth’s crust is made up of separate parts, called tectonic plates, that nestle next to each other.

These plates often try to move and it is the friction and rubbing against the plate next to it that prevents it from moving further. But sometimes the pressure builds so much that one of the plates suddenly jolts, causing the surface to tremble.

In this case, the Arabian plate moved and shifted to the north, colliding with the Anatolian plate.

Precisely the friction of these plates has been responsible for very damaging earthquakes in the past. For example, on August 13, 1822, it caused an earthquake of magnitude 7.4, somewhat smaller than those registered now.

Even so, the 19th-century earthquake caused immense damage to cities in the area, with 7,000 deaths recorded in the city of Aleppo alone. Damaging aftershocks continued for nearly a year.

Already there have been several aftershocks after the current earthquake and scientists expect it to follow the same trend as the previous major earthquake in the region.

How are earthquakes measured?

They are measured on a scale called the seismic moment magnitude scale.

A tremor of 2.5 or less is usually not felt, but can be detected with a variety of instruments. Tremors up to 5 are felt and cause minor damage.

He Turkey’s 7.8 earthquake is classified as major and usually causes serious damage, as has happened in this case.

Any movement above 8 causes catastrophic damage and can totally destroy communities in its center.

For example, the earthquake off the coast of Japan in 2011 registered as magnitude 9 and caused widespread damage to the land, triggering a series of giant tidal waves, one of which caused a major accident at the nuclear plant over the course of the coast.

The largest earthquake in history was 9.5 and occurred in Chile on Sunday May 22, 1960. The great earthquake in Valdivia lasted about 10 minutes, released energy equivalent to 20,000 Hiroshima bombs, and caused a tsunami with waves of up to 25 meters that caused devastation and buried coastal towns. (YO)

Source: Eluniverso


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