On the 30th of October 2020, at 2:21 PM (local time), a powerful earthquake jolted the Aegean Sea, ravaging the coastal city of Izmir and the Greek island of Samos. The primary brunt of the casualties was born near Izmir, where the shockwaves caused panic and compelled residents to seek refuge under the open sky as neighboring buildings collapsed. A cloud of dust and smoke accumulated in the atmosphere.
According to Izmir’s Mayor Tunc Soyer’s report to CNN, 20 buildings multiple stories high were suddenly replaced by the rubble of concrete and debris within a span of minutes. The majority of these were located in the Bayrakli district. The Disaster and Emergency Management in Turkey reported 1009 injured and a steadily rising death toll of 116 as of Wednesday, 4th November. In Samos, a collapsing wall killed two teenagers who were returning home from school, in response to which Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated: “Words fail when children are lost. In these difficult hours, our thoughts turn to their families and Samos experiencing unbearable pain”.
Turkey is no stranger to violent earthquakes. It is a seismic hot zone sitting atop fault lines. The 1999 Izmir earthquake, for instance, resulted in about 17, 000 casualties. Yet many buildings are old, lacking in the resilient infrastructure required to withstand seismic waves of high magnitudes. Regulations for urban renewal are underway but have simply not been quick enough to be able to cope with the fury of nature.
There has been some debate about the magnitude of the Izmir earthquake. AFAD (the disaster management authority in Turkey) said it was a magnitude of 6.6, while the US Geological Survey calibrated it at 7.0 on the Richter scale. Either way, the epicenter of the quake was a shallow 13 miles below ground level Northeast of Samos. The jolts were felt in their full force on the ground level as far as Athens and Istanbul, though there have not been any reported damage in those regions.
The shifting of the tectonic plates also triggered a mini tsunami, as tidal waves from the Aegean sea slashed the shore of Samos and the Seferihisar district of Izmir flooding streets and drowning one elderly woman in the latter.
In the aftermath of the calamity in Izmir (which is the third-largest city of Turkey with a population of 3 million), rescue operations ensued. Rescuers continued to dig through the rubble frantically, still wary of the tremors and aftershocks (about 900 continued to shake Western Turkey, about 42 of them with a Richter scale of 4.0) with bare hands hoping to find survivors under the wreckage.
Many distraught families were buried underneath blocs of concrete; bodies of some family members were extricated from the wreckage. The devastation was broken up by brief moments of joy as rescue teams found unlikely survivors, some of them shockingly unscathed with only minor injuries. The 107 survivors, found in the rubble included a 70-year-old man Ahmed Citim, a three-year-old, Elif Perincek discovered 65 hours after the calamity and a four-year-old Ayda Gezgin found 91 hours into the rescue operations. Ayda was dubbed “the miracle of the 91st hour” in a tweet by Mayor Soyer.
According to the disaster management authority in Turkey, currently, over 3500 tents and 13,000 beds have been deployed for temporary shelters with about 8000 personnel to conduct relief efforts. With many buildings damaged and the fear of aftershocks, thousands of people in Izmir spent their fourth night in the aftermath in makeshift shelter tents. The catastrophe has also entailed many missing victims.
In the wake of the tragedy, relations between the two nations, previously tense due to a conflict of interest over eastern Mediterranean energy rights, now eased. According to diplomatic sources, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias offered his support in a phone call to his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. Both extended their goodwill and offered resources to mitigate the effects of the disaster.
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