Experts warn parliament of Istanbul earthquake risk - report

Experts have warned the Turkish parliament that Istanbul remains at risk of a significant earthquake, Cumhuriyet newspaper reported on Saturday.

The energy for a seismic event with a magnitude above 7 on the Richter scale has already built up in the Marmara region where the city is located, Cumhuriyet cited Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute Director Haluk Özener as saying to a parliamentary enquiry on the issue.

“On average, there is a 7 to 7.9 scale earthquake every six and a half years in this region,” he said, referring to the Anatolian peninsula as a whole.

The last earthquake of similar scale took place near the southeastern province of Van in 2011, killing more than 600 people. And Özener said statistically speaking another was due soon: “I am not trying to present a disaster scenario, but we are now in the ninth year (since Van).” 

The widespread belief in Turkey that an earthquake in a smaller segment of one of the several long fault lines that span the country would decrease the risk of other large-scale seismic events in the region is not accurate, according to Özener.

“The idea that smaller earthquakes take the energy away from bigger ones is correct in theory but not possible in practice,” he said.

The 6.9 magnitude earthquake that shook the western Izmir province on Oct. 30 resulted in 115 fatalities, higher than similar events elsewhere in the world, raising concerns over Turkey’s preparedness to face similar events in the future.

Cumhuriyet said Özener welcomed the government’s target of earthquake-proofing 300,000 to 500,000 buildings a year but warned that at that rate it would take 15 years to complete the work across the whole country.

“I hope the earthquake will wait for us for that long,” he said.

An earthquake that struck the Marmara Sea in 1999 and affected parts of Istanbul, had killed 17,000 people, most of them in the neighbouring Izmit province, and left another 250,000 homeless.

The 1999 earthquake marked the last major break in the northern Anatolian fault line near its western end. Experts have said the next break could be near Istanbul’s Prince’s Islands, focusing most of its destructive power on the city of 16 million people.