Another shocking natural tragedy of the new millennium is taking place in Turkey and Syria as a mega earthquake of 7.8 magnitude, with its epicentre near the ancient city of Gaziantep, was followed a few hours later by another temblor measuring 7.5 on the Moment Magnitude Scale and then by a series of about 285 aftershocks that may not have run their course yet. The scale of the destruction is unbelievable as around 3,000 buildings collapsed in several major Turkish cities and rescuers and survivors are frantically searching through the rubble hoping against hope of pulling out people buried when they were asleep as the first monstrous quake hit at around 03.20 local time.
Scientists have been dreading massive earthquakes in several parts of the world that are seismically active zones which have not witnessed the red-hot fury of nature for over a decade since a temblor struck Port-au-Prince in Haiti in 2010 and over three lakh people died and leaving more than 10 lakh people homeless. The East Anatolian fault zone, scene of many massive earthquakes in the past, was home to what science calls a strike-slip quake when tectonic plates slide past each other horizontally rather than move up and down.
The Anatolian Plate, on which Turkey sits and which borders two major faults, has historically been a hotbed of seismic activity and the quake may have taken place with the Arabian Plate grinding against it. As they say, empires may rise and fall and emperors may come and go, but geology conquers all. All humanity can do is to rush as much help as possible to those stricken. In this age of instant communication, the plight of hundreds of unlucky people was livestreaming on the social media and platforms like Twitter lending the tragedy deeper poignancy because of the pressing nature of immediacy hitting home.
The difficulty of accessing areas with only minor airports and rescue teams from around 75 countries having to rush manically in trucks with heavy equipment even as aftershocks were creating hurdles by blocking roads lends the scene a horrific overtone. In fact, as the powerful quakes struck, people may have imagined that the Apocalypse had indeed arrived as the shaking of buildings lasted at least 90 seconds. It is estimated that the death toll may rise upwards of 20,000, but even survivors are suffering in extremely low temperatures below zero at the height of winter in both nations that are bearing the brunt.
Turkey has clearly suffered more in an area that has not had a quake for 200 years and may have been unprepared. It may perhaps count twice the number of deaths as Syria. But Syria has had its infrastructure pummelled in 11 years of a civil war and the region that took the brunt was filled with war refugees who live in government and rebel-held areas and who have little to call their own amid a man-made tragedy.
The Turkish lira plunged further even as 58 per cent inflation has added to the people’s burden. Facing a tight re-election, President Erdogan has turned to the world for aiding the rescue effort, including India that has committed at least two companies of the NDRF as well as medical teams and financial aid. The extent of the disaster can be gleaned from the fact that the UN believes 2.3 crore people, including around 10 lakh children, may be affected in Turkey and Syria.