August 17, 1999 – Izmit (Turkey) earthquake

The Mw7.4 earthquake that struck nothwestern Turkey on August 17, 1999 (also known as the Kocaeli, Turkey, earthquake), at about 3:01am local time. The event lasted for 37 seconds and it occurred on one of the world’s longest and best studied strike-slip (horizontal motion) faults: the east-west trending North Anatolian fault. This fault is very similar to the San Andreas fault in California. This similarity has lead to active scientific collaborations between scientists in Turkey and the US aimed at understanding the hazards they both face.

Turkey has had a long history of large earthquakes that often occur in progressive adjacent earthquakes. Starting in 1939, the North Anatolian fault produced a sequence of major earthquakes, of which the 1999 event is the 11th with a magnitude greater than or equal to 6.7. Starting with the 1939 event in western Turkey, the earthquake locations have moved both eastward and westward.

The official numbers tell about 17,127 killed and 43,959 injured by Izmit earthquake, but many sources suggest the actual figure may have been closer to 40,000 dead and a similar number injured. The death toll increased in winter, due to poor conditions the survivors were living in within the shelters and on the street. Reports from September 1999 show that 120,000 poorly engineered houses were damaged beyond repair, 50,000 houses were heavily damaged, 2000 other buildings collapsed and 4000 other buildings were heavily damaged. 600,000 people were left homeless after the earthquake.

The earthquake was heavily felt in the industrialized and densely populated urban areas of the country, including oil refineries, several automotive plants, and the Turkish navy headquarters and arsenal in Gölcük, this increased the severity of the loss of life and property. The earthquake caused a subsequent fire due to collapse of a tower in TUPRAS oil refinery. The refinery had over 700,000 tons of oil stored. It took several days to get the fire under control.

Turkish soldiers were given 45 days leave to help rescue their relatives. Bodies were buried quickly in mass graves to stop any spread of disease.

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