In the early morning of Monday, Feb. 6, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey in Nurdağı – a district and city of Gaziantep Province.
At 1:17 a.m. UST – 4:17 a.m. local time in Turkey – the earthquake occurred near the northern border of Syria at the shallow depth of 11 miles. As of early Tuesday morning, more than 5,000 people have been killed with thousands more injured or stuck in rubble.
More than 3,500 people have died in Turkey, with over 1,600 lost in Syrian regions of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus.
Eleven minutes after the initial strike, a 6.8 magnitude aftershock occurred – causing more damage and likely causalities. Several hours afterwards, a 7.5 magnitude aftershock continued to shake the region.
According to Dr. Joseph Reese, who teaches geoscience at PennWest University, the incident occurred between the Arabian Plate and the Anatolian tectonic plate – which is wedged between the border of Turkey and Syria.
“Basically, Saudi Arabia is moving north and Turkey is being squeezed off to the west,” Reese said. “It’s a plate interaction, and it certainly is very active.”
Reese explained that the fault interaction is similar to the horizonal motion of the San Andreas Fault, which caused two devastating earthquakes in San Francisco in 1906 and 1989.
The United States Geological Survey reports that the earthquake occurred in a region that is seismically active, with three earthquakes of magnitude 6 or larger having occurred since 1970. Monday’s earthquake is one of the strongest to hit the region in more than 100 years.
Rescue agents and crews continue to dig through debris and rubble to find missing individuals and sort through the damage. Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Agency requested assistance on the international scale to help the country recover.
“Buildings absorb the energy from the ground – with their own frequency. And some of the buildings experience more shaking as a result,” Reese said.
The early-morning earthquake also coincided with colder temperatures, as the region hovered around freezing with a snow and rain mix covering the area.
“A large number of people were at home and inside buildings, and that’s when most of the devastation happens,” Reese said. “The area has been impacted by civil war, human factors and the weather. This makes the recovery effort difficult.”
Dr. Irene Fiala, associate professor of sociology, political science and law at PennWest, has traveled to Turkey and connected with the country through the Turkish Cultural Center in Pittsburgh. She said she knows first-hand the resilience of the Turkish people.
“Words can never adequately express the heartfelt sorrow that a world feels for the devastation experienced in Turkey and Syria as a result of powerful earthquakes,” she said. “My awareness of the challenges faced by Syrians, likewise, lead me to believe that resilience is also a shared trait. My heart goes out to all those who have been impacted by this disaster, and, in particular, to those whom I call friends.”