Sunday, October 23, 2011

Traveler's Alert: 7.2 Quake Hits Eastern Turkey, Fatalities Rising

A powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey on Sunday (October 23), collapsing dozens of buildings. State-run television reported that 45 people were killed and 150 others injured in the eastern town of Ercis, but first responders estimate that up to 1,000 people could already be dead, due to low housing standards in the area and the magnitude of the quake.

Ercis, a town of 75,000 in the mountainous province of Van close to the Iranian border, was the hardest hit. It lies on the Ercis Fault in one of Turkey's most earthquake-prone zones. The bustling regional center of Van, 55 miles to the south, also suffered substantial damage. Building collapses could reach 40 between the two cities.

COMMENT: The quake's epicenter was in the village of Tabanli, 10 miles from Van. Turkey lies in one of the world's most active seismic zones and is crossed by numerous fault lines. Sunday's earthquake struck in the country's most earthquake-prone region, around Lake Van near the border with Iran. "We are estimating a death toll between 500 and 1,000," Mustafa Erdik, head of the Kandilli observatory, told a televised news conference.

The earthquake also shook buildings in neighboring Armenia. In the Armenian capital of Yerevan, located 100 miles from Ercis, people rushed into the streets fearing buildings would collapse. No damage or injuries were immediately reported. Armenia was the site of a devastating earthquake in 1988 that killed 25,000 people.

Turkey sees frequent earthquakes. In 1999, two earthquakes with a magnitude of more than 7.0 struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people. More recently, a 6.0-magnitude quake in March 2010 killed 51 people in eastern Turkey, while in 2003, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake killed 177 people in the southeastern city of Bingol.

Turkey's worst earthquake in the last century came in 1939 in Erzincan, causing an estimated 160,000 deaths.

Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, with more than 12 million people, lies in northwestern Turkey near a major fault line. Authorities say the city is ill-prepared for a major earthquake and experts have warned that overcrowding and faulty construction could lead to the deaths of over 40,000 people in a major quake.

In-bound travelers to Turkey should be prepared for delays at all transportation centers, due to the response to the earthquake. If travel is optional, arrivals in Turkey should be deferred by at least a week.

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