The strong earthquakes that shook Turkey and Syria this Monday (06/02) have already left more than 4,800 dead and an even greater number injured. While the number of victims continues to rise, rescuers work at full speed to rescue survivors from the rubble.
In their efforts, they have to deal with harsh weather conditions, often sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow in some locations.
Turkish civil protection agency Afad said the epicentre of a 7.4-magnitude earthquake was in the province of Kahramanmaras, close to the border with Syria. Another earthquake with a magnitude of 6.6 was measured shortly afterwards in Gaziantep province.
On both sides of the border, tremors jolted people awake several hours before dawn and out into the streets on a cold night of wind, rain and snow. Dozens of buildings collapsed in cities across the border region.
The quake struck a region scarred on both sides of the border by more than a decade of civil war in Syria. On the Syrian side, that area is divided between territory controlled by the government and the last enclave in the hands of the opposition, which is surrounded by Syrian forces with Russian support.
Turkey, for its part, hosts millions of refugees from that conflict. Some four million Syrians from other parts of the country displaced by the fighting are crowding the regions controlled by the opposition.
What caused the Turkey earthquake?
Turkey is located in a zone of large seismic faults and registers frequent earthquakes. Some 18,000 people died in 1999 in a series of earthquakes in the northwest of the country.
In 1999 it triggered two earthquakes, measuring 7.4 and 7.0 each, in the provinces of Gölcük and Düzce. Nearly 18,000 people died and more than 45,000 were injured. Back in 2011, more than 500 people were killed when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the eastern city of Van.
Turkey is frequently shaken by earthquakes. In 2020, it recorded almost 33,000 earthquakes in the region, according to the Authority for Disaster and Emergency Management (AFAD). Of these, 332 earthquakes were of magnitudes 4.0 and above.
The boundaries between these plates are a fault system: fractures between two blocks of rock. Any sudden movement along these faults can cause earthquakes, according to the British Archaeological Survey.
Turkey’s propensity for earthquakes stems from its tectonic location. The outermost layer of the Earth is made up of about 15 main slabs, called tectonic plates.
The reason behind Turkey’s propensity for earthquakes is its location. Almost all earthquakes are caused by the movement of tectonic plates.
Danger zone, reactivated
The region where the devastating earthquake of February 6 occurred is seismically active, but it had been relatively quiet in recent decades. Only three earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater have occurred within 250 km of the February 6 earthquake since 1970.
The largest of these, magnitude 6.7, occurred northeast of the February 6 earthquake on January 24, 2020. All of these earthquakes occurred along or in the vicinity of the East Anatolian Fault.
The North Anatolian Fault crosses the country from west to east and the East Anatolian Fault rests in the southeastern region of the country.
This grinding has been instrumental in causing large earthquakes that moved progressively from east to west over a period of 60 years.
Monday’s earthquake was as powerful as the 1939 earthquake, which remains the most powerful and deadliest earthquake on record to strike the country’s northeast (Izmit), claiming more than 30,000 lives.
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