Tragic alarm on earthquake codes
The toll taken by the earthquake that hit Turkey this week is a tragic reminder that disaster preparedness depends on the thoroughness of thousands of local contractors and officials - not just on the knowledge of a few scientists in a lab.Skip to next paragraph
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Turkey is one of the most seismically active areas of the world, similar in that respect to California or Japan. Its national government has drawn up earthquake-protection building codes that are as tough and realistic as any in the industrial world.
But implementation and oversight of these codes are left to provinces and local communities, says Nafi Toksz, a geophysics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "Enforcement is uneven," he says. "Expertise and a realization of their significance" are often lacking at the grass-roots level.
In the wake of the disaster, sentiment in Turkey is running high against the laxity and corruption that many Turks feel compounded the damage from the temblor.
"Murderers" is the bold front-page banner headline that the mass-circulation daily Hurriyet used Wednesday to describe the people it considers responsible for the quake devastation.
Some Turkish experts estimate that more than half of the buildings in Istanbul do not comply with the requirements and standards set by the laws. That, they say, is why several tall apartment buildings on the outskirts of the city fell like a pile of cards, while older construction - even ancient Byzantine walls and minarets - survived.
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has complained about this situation as well as the fact that Turkey lacks the organization needed for speedy action after such disasters, from well-trained rescue teams to communication systems.
Help from abroad
Substantial foreign assistance, from the US, Israel, Russia, and even longtime adversary Greece, has already started to arrive.
Such aid will help the nation recover from the shock and grief of a disaster in which the death toll is more than 3,500. The question is whether the national government will now finally force longer-term measures to prevent the scale of destruction wrought by Tuesday's temblor, say Turkish analysts.
Mr. Ecevit has pushed through parliament some major economic and social reforms that have been on the Turkish agenda for a long time.
"Our hope is that, after this terrible experience, Ecevit will give priority to this problem and show the guts to enforce measures that we remember only at times of disaster like this," says a Turkish academic. "That's not an easy job, but it is as important as dealing with the problem of terrorism."
The earthquake, by almost any measure, was a huge one. US scientists made a preliminary estimate that it was 7.8 on the Richter scale. Turkish measurements registered a magnitude of 7.4.
The most recent big US temblor was the Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles on Jan. 17, 1994, which registered 6.8 on the Richter scale. If the larger US measurement on the Turkey quake is not revised downward, it "means that the ground movement at the epicenter was approximately 10 times as great" as Northridge, notes Don Blakeman, a geophysicist at the US Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.