Earthquakes in Chile vs Turkey

Over the past couple days, there have been two major earthquakes in the north of Chile, off the coast of Iquique. The first one, with a magnitude of 8.2, struck on Tuesday night. Last night, there was an aftershock of 7.8. Several other aftershocks over 5.0 have also been recorded.

Iquique earthquake - Image courtesy of VOA News

Image courtesy of VOA News

I’m obviously fine, and I didn’t feel a thing here in Santiago. The distance from Iquique to Santiago is about the same as the distance from Chicago to Dallas. You can see the length of Chile in the map below.

 

In my experience, the strongest earthquake I’ve been through was a 5.6 and it only lasted for ten seconds. Because of that, I was amazed by the behavior of people during and after the quake in Chile:

First, there were only six deaths as of the 2nd day, mostly from crumbling walls and heart attacks. Chile is very serious about the building codes. They are widely followed and strictly enforced. This has a lot to do with the very small death count for such a powerful earthquake.

Second, when people evacuated buildings, for the most part, they left very calmly. Nobody is pushing, nobody is trampling over others. I’m sure the opposite happened in other places, but aren’t the most chaotic videos the ones that tend to get posted and show up on the news? Watch the video below to see an evacuation from the earthquake. If this is “chaos” during an earthquake, I’ll take it.

Third, when people were evacuated from coastal areas following a tsunami warning, they did it calmly and quietly. On the footage I saw, the police were directing traffic and you didn’t hear anyone obsessively honking their horns or see anyone trying to cut off other drivers. The only noise came from the tsunami sirens and shouting of directions.

Other than a prison break and some reported looting, the calm after the earthquake was unbelievable.

Looking back, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck near Santiago in 2010 affected several large cities and killed 525 people. The high death count was probably due to the fact the earthquake affected about 8 million people (nearly half the population of Chile). I don’t know much more about it, but I’m positive the aftermath of that earthquake prepared the country for future quakes like this week’s by contributing to stricter building codes and safety education.

That brings me to the subject of earthquakes in Turkey. After living in Turkey and seeing the deadly Van earthquake in 2011, and hearing personal accounts of the Kocaeli earthquake in 1999 from several students, thanks to Chile, I realized Turkey has a long way to go in enforcing building codes, and earthquake education and safety.

The Van earthquake was a 7.1, killed over 600 in an area of a half million people, and destroyed over 10,000 buildings. The Kocaeli earthquake was a 7.4, killed up to 45,000 people (official figures put it between 17,000 and 45,000), and leveled over 120,000 buildings. The death toll is even more shocking when you consider the population of Kocaeli Province is only 1.5 million! Clearly, something is wrong with these numbers.

Everybody is expecting a major earthquake within the next 25 years to eventually hit Istanbul, with an unofficial population of 18 million and growing uncontrollably. The talk for the past several years has been whether Istanbul is prepared or not and how bad the death toll will be.

Well, I for one am terribly worried about another major earthquake in Turkey. I don’t even want to speculate on a death toll. Most of the buildings in the country, especially Istanbul, are clearly not up to code just by looking at them with an untrained eye. I really don’t know how much has been done to inspect or repair buildings that were built before stricter regulations were put in place, but I do know it hasn’t been enough. Let’s not even dwell on the illegal construction happening all over the city. In Van, some buildings crumbled instantly while the building across the street or next door remained intact with little damage. The lesson was clearly not learned from the Kocaeli quake. I fear worse for Istanbul.

Van Earthquake. Photo by Niagara Foundation.

Van Earthquake. Photo by Niagara Foundation.

In the end, the burden is on the Turkish people. It’s easy to say, but the worst thing to do during an emergency is to panic. Panic is contagious. I remember having monthly tornado and fire drills in school growing up. I always thought it was ridiculous, but it taught me not to panic in an emergency situation. I don’t recall once ever having an earthquake drill during my time in Turkey, or any building I lived in having earthquake safety instructions.

OK, maybe “calm” is not exactly a word in the Turkish vocabulary (I know this well), but watching and learning from the Chilean people how to react in an earthquake can be a huge benefit. I only say this because I have been in several NON-EMERGENCY situations in Turkey where people have pushed and shoved and not cared about the safety of anyone else around them.

Pushing and shoving and “everyone for themselves” is not the way to act – emergency or not. This only causes more injury and harm to others, and makes it MORE difficult to evacuate! When people get pushed and start falling on the ground, you will not only hurt them by stepping on them, but you will not be able to easily get out of the building yourself. Chances are, you will fall down and get injured, too. Calmly evacuating like the Chileans did can actually save more lives and cause fewer injuries!

I also know that jumping out of windows during earthquakes is common in Turkey. Why? I will never understand. Just like jumping out of a perfectly good plane makes no sense to me, jumping out of an eighth floor window in a building that may or may not crumble also makes no sense. I even remember a minor earthquake in Japan where there were three deaths – two by heart attack, and one by jumping out of a window. My Turkish friend said “I bet you that was a Turk.” We did some research. Guess what? It was.

So Turkey, please put more effort into earthquake safety. I’m not the only one who’s telling you. I know it’s hard, but learn to be calm. Learn the best place in your house or office to take shelter during an earthquake. There’s probably nothing you can do about the building you are in during an earthquake, but you can improve your chances of survival and avoiding serious injury. It might take another terrible earthquake to finally learn the lesson other countries have learned about building codes, but at least be prepared for the next one.

Again, please learn to be calm. I would hate to see my friends or the people that have treated me so well over three years needlessly injured because of a stampede that could have been prevented.

And Chile, I am amazed at the way things have been handled so far. Thank you for setting such a good example.

Teachers in Turkey, do your students have earthquake drills and safety courses in your schools? Business professionals in Turkey, do you do earthquake drills in your buildings or have any earthquake safety procedures?

Example earthquake safety poster from Safety Poster Shop

Example earthquake safety poster from Safety Poster Shop

3 thoughts on “Earthquakes in Chile vs Turkey

  1. The Freebird

    Do you live in a place, where, when a subway train reaches it terminus, there are people waiting to take it back the way it came? And those people want to get on that train as quickly as possible, so they can get a seat? And they are smart enough to figure that if they let the passengers off, the whole train will be empty? And that the quickest way to get through a set of doors is if you are not fighting people who have a greater need to get off the train than you do to get on? One way systems flow much quicker than two way ones, especially if funnelled through a relatively narrow gap (think doorway)?
    Do you live somewhere with people smart enough to figure that out? Or do you live somewhere with people too plain ass dumb to work that out? Somewhere with people, who regardless of intelligence, are too rude to wait a single minute lest somebody else take one of the hundreds of available seats?

    Because if you live in that second place, you can put up all the earthquake procedures you like. If the populace can't co-operate civilly in every day situations, what the hell chance do they have in an emergency.

  2. Nick Pangere

    Unfortunately true – I can't tell you how many times on the Metrobüs have I nearly missed my stop because nobody wants to lose their spot standing right in front of the doors. Or missed getting on when there are a few empty seats because someone is blocking the door for the next one. Even in Chicago I've experienced rude people trying to jump on the train before people have a chance to get out. Those 2 or 3 idiots could be the difference between life and death in an emergency. That's why I think educating from an early age is the solution, although not perfect. Bad habits can be changed. It might take a generation, but patience and manners can be learned.

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