Istanbul launches mock quake exercise

Earthquake-prone Istanbul launched a major disaster simulation on Tuesday, after two small tremors reignited criticism that not enough has been done to protect the city of 12-million.

Almost 18 000 people were killed in 1999 when a strong earthquake hit north-western Turkey, including Istanbul.

Seismologists say a major quake is likely to hit Turkey’s largest city in the next three decades and newspapers have lately been full of warnings of the approaching “big one”.

In a district of Istanbul hit badly in 1999, rescue workers in Tuesday’s quake simulation used drills and saws to cut through the roof of a demolished building. As they reached a second survivor, an aftershock sent them running.

On the other side of town rescuers pulled bodies out of a derailed train and boats spurted water on to a ship that had caught fire in Turkey’s strategic Bosphorus Strait.

Last month local media quoted National Earthquake Council chairperson Haluk Eyidogan criticising authorities for failing to enforce rules on construction and structural inspections. Istanbul’s governor acknowledged that many of the city’s buildings would not withstand a large quake.

Professor Mustafa Erdik, of Turkey’s Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, estimates a quake of 7,5 on the Richter scale would kill 40 000 to 50 000 people in Istanbul, Sabah newspaper on Tuesday quoted his report as saying.

Can Avci, head of the Istanbul Search and Rescue Team, said progress has been made and 11 000 people trained since 1999.

“The organisation of volunteers has improved,” Avci told Reuters.
“Professional teams have developed and have had training with modern equipment and then have shared this with volunteers. That’s the biggest difference [since 1999].”

Istanbul now has 90 full-time professional rescue workers, compared with 20 in 1999, he said. Istanbul municipality said 1 550 personnel took part in the simulation.

The small earthquakes in October revived memories of the 1999 quake, which Istanbul residents still describe vividly.

Grocer Gungor Dincer recalled: “At the moment of the earthquake, coming from underground, there’s a sound, it’s like a washing machine on a spin cycle.”—Reuters

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