PARIS (AFP) – A combination of factors made the powerful earthquake that struck Turkiye and Syria early Monday particularly deadly, including its timing, location, relatively quiet fault line and the weak construction of the collapsed buildings, experts said.
More than 2,300 people have been killed by the 7.8-magnitude quake near Turkiye’s Syrian border, with the toll expected to grow as aftershocks reverberate throughout the day.
The earthquake caused such devastation partly because of its power – it is the strongest earthquake to hit Turkiye since 1939 – and because it hit a populated region.
Another reason is that it occurred at 4.17am, which meant that sleeping people were “trapped when their houses collapsed”, honorary research associate at the British Geological Survey Roger Musson told AFP.
The construction of buildings was also not “really adequate for an area that’s susceptible to large earthquakes,” said the author of the book The Million Death Quake.
That could partly be due to the fact that the fault line on which the earthquake struck has been relatively quiet recently.
Turkiye is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. A quake along the North Anatolian fault line in the northern Turkish region of Duzce killed more than 17,000 people in 1999.
But Monday’s earthquake occurred on the other side of the country, along the East Anatolian fault. The East Anatolian fault has not had a magnitude-7 quake for over two centuries, which could mean people were “neglecting how dangerous” it is, Musson said.
Because it had been so long since the last big quake, “quite a lot of energy” may have built up, Musson theorised. The strength of the aftershocks on Monday, including a huge 7.5-magnitude tremor, supported this theory, he added.
This earthquake was “almost a rerun” of a 7.4 magnitude one in the same area in 1822, Musson said.
It caused “an enormous amount of damage, whole towns in ruins, and casualties in the tens of thousands”, he said.
The epicentre of Monday’s earthquake was at a relatively shallow depth of about 17.9 kilometres near the Turkish city of Gaziantep.
It was caused by the Arabian tectonic plate moving northward, “scraping past Turkiye”, Musson said.
“Because it cannot move smoothly, it sticks,” he said. “The release of that movement along the fault is what produces a major earthquake like the one we’ve had today.”