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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Istanbul hosts massive quake evacuation exercise 

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Thousands of aid workers and other personnel took part in one of the biggest earthquake preparedness exercises in Istanbul, a city that is expected to be hit by a major earthquake in the near future according to scientists. Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) launched the exercise at 18 different locations in the city, including Istanbul Airport, with the Kağıthane district on the city’s European side serving as the base of operations. AFAD crews responded to a scenario in which an earthquake of a magnitude of 7.5 or higher hit the metropolis for the “evacuation, accommodation and planning” exercise. The scenario focused on all 39 districts of the city and was the latest in a series of drills AFAD and other public agencies have conducted in the “Year of Exercises.” Though search and rescue exercises are common, it was the first major evacuation exercise for Turkey, which sought to reform its disaster response after one of the biggest earthquakes in its history in 1999. Along with AFAD, crews from municipalities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) took part in the exercise while Kağıthane residents were also given roles in the evacuation. Istanbul, with its population of more than 15 million people, is Turkey’s most populated city and is at constant risk of earthquakes. Multiple studies show the city will inevitably suffer from a powerful earthquake, and experts warn that it is not a question of “if” but “when.” Thousands of buildings are structurally unsound and cannot endure a strong earthquake according to studies. The city was shaken by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in 2019, its biggest in nearly two decades. Though tremors were slight, it was enough to send people panicking into the streets, as memories of the 1999 earthquake are still vivid. Turkey has suffered devastating earthquakes in the past, including the 7.4 magnitude earthquake in Gölcük in 1999 that killed more than 17,000 people in the greater region. The country is among the world’s most seismically active zones as it is situated on several active fault lines, with the most potentially devastating being the Northern Anatolia Fault, the meeting point of the Anatolian and Eurasian tectonic plates. The Environment, Urban Planning and Climate Change Ministry already has an ambitious, nationwide project in place to improve the building and safety standards for hundreds of thousands of houses, shops and offices. Over the last nine years, the ministry has evacuated or demolished 673,000 of those units, while work on the remaining structures continues. The government has allocated more than TL 15 billion ($1.71 billion) for “urban transformation” projects that cover some 5 million people in more than 1.3 million housing units. The operation aims to provide safe homes for at least 45% of the population.

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