Shaky Istanbul

Istanbul is located in an active earthquake area. For a city with more than 15 million people, it’s not possible to make every building earthquake safe. People are aware of the consequences of living there, but are stuck in their old apartments.

Photos and text by Thirza de Raad and Iris van Schie

Dozens of minor earthquakes and aftershocks occur yearly in and around Istanbul (Marmara area). Since 1900 there have been 210 earthquakes in this area. The last big earthquake in Istanbul was in 26 September 2019. It measured 5,8 on the Richter scale. One person died and 43 people were injured.

Experts have been warning for years. The expected quake is forecasted to have a magnitude of a maximum 7.6. Bülent özmen, a seismology engineering expert, said that there is a 50 percent chance that Istanbul will be hit by a major (7 till 7,9 on the Richter scale) earthquake within the next two decades.

An earthquake bag that some of the Istanbulians have at home. Source: Amazone.

In 1999 Turkey got hit by a heavy earthquake in Izmit, South-East Istanbul. This earthquake cost 17.000 people their life and 43.000 people got hurt. After this earthquake the construction rules for buildings got stricter so that the buildings would be more resistant for the next earthquake.

In 2004 there was a new legislation introduced for all construction to make everything earthquake proof. A lot of these buildings are now considered unsafe, but are still in use.

So this leads to the questions: How do all the 15 million Istanbulian prepare for the next earthquake that will happen? Several Istanbulians tell if they and their apartment are ready for the next earthquakes.

Asya Yilmaz, a 43 year old woman working in a hotel, says that she is not really prepared or well informed for a next earthquake: ‘’I don’t have an earthquake bag. I live in a neighbourhood that has been rebuild after the big earthquake so I am not that scared. But I don’t think we have an open place outside in our neighbourhood where I can go to get shelter because my neighbourhood is full of tall buildings that are close next to each other.’’

Fadime Beg (51), colleague of Asya shares her experience of the latest earthquakes: ‘’Luckily when the earthquake happened last September, we were in a safe new building so we could stay inside, but a lot of people outside were panicking because they didn’t know where to go. If I had been home at that time I would have been scared because I think my building is not that safe.’’

Utku Malas (28), who studies ICT at the Bilgi University in Istanbul, tells about his safety concerns of his apartment: ‘’The building that I live in is kinda old so I don’t know if it is safe if a big earthquake will happen. But if I want to get my apartment checked on earthquake safety I have to pay a lot of money. That is a big part of the problem, you need money if you want to be sure that your apartment is safe. And if your apartment is unsafe you need to move, that is also expensive.’’

Another student from the Bilgi University Mert Ayaz (23), is critical but also doesn’t prepare: ‘’We don’t prepare. We Turkish people think that earthquakes aren’t that heavy, we are not conscious about it. Even when scientists are saying that the next big earthquake will case a lot of damage. I am aware of the problem but to be honest I also don’t have anything at home if a earthquake will happen.’’

Seril Aksay (23) studies Media and Performance management, is unlike the others well prepared for the next earthquake: ‘’I am originally from the same place were the big.

Mert Ayaz (23), one of the interviewed students

earthquake happened in 1999, so when the earthquake happened in September, everyone was really scared that the same will happen again. So after that, I decided with my roommates in Istanbul that we need to get some earthquake bags in our house. It consist of whistles what you can use if your underneath debris, flashlights and some canned food. I think that’s the minimum that we can do to be safe.’’

The source of the earthquake in Turkey come from the fault lines running across the North, from West to East, that are concentrated in the southwest of Istanbul.

Luckily there are organizations and volunteers in the city that provide information on how to get prepared for a next earthquake. Still a lot of rebuilding needs to take place before everybody in Istanbul lives in a safe house.

A big part of the problem is that a lot of people in Istanbul are aware of the problem but don’t prepare for the next earthquake. A lot of the apartments are built without following the new construction rules, the shelter places in the city are influenced by commercial aspects and to check if your apartment is earthquake proof, it will cost you a lot of money.