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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

The collapse of countless buildings raises questions about Turkey’s construction standards

A survivor is freed from the wreckage of an apartment building in Gaziantep, Turkey, on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023.

By Ceylan Yeginsu and James Glanz

As two powerful earthquakes struck Turkey’s southeast on Monday, many residential buildings simply collapsed, as if compressed like accordions, trapping residents under huge piles of debris while other nearby buildings somehow remained intact.

Although experts agreed that the quakes were strong enough to cause severe damage even to some structures built to strict seismic standards, the pancake collapse of so many buildings has raised questions about construction regulations and compliance with codes aimed at making buildings earthquake safe.

After analyzing pictures of the buildings destroyed in Turkey on Monday, Matthys Levy, a New York-based structural engineer, and co-author of the book “Why Buildings Fall Down: How Structures Fail,” said the concrete block structures were not built with the ability to sway without failing, and probably did not have enough steel reinforcing the concrete.

“They have no seismic defenses at all because they’re all rigid.” he said. “So, you get a shock, and it collapses at the base and the whole building comes down.”

In 1999, Turkey was hit by a devastating earthquake in the northwestern city of Izmit that killed more than 17,000 people and damaged around 20,000 buildings. Another strong earthquake rocked southeastern Turkey in 2011, killing nearly 500 people and prompting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Turkey’s prime minister, to accuse property developers of poor construction practices and to compare their negligence to murder.

In 2007, Turkey introduced new building regulations for earthquake zones. But lax enforcement and shoddy construction practices persist, experts say, and have been exacerbated by a government-backed building boom that reshaped city skylines with large residential building projects that are often delivered hastily, without adequate quality control.

“People always think they are more safe if they live in new, modern buildings, but even new buildings that were advertised as ‘earthquake proof’ collapsed in Malatya and other towns,” said Erol Kirtas, a civil engineer based in Cologne, Germany, referring to his hometown in eastern Turkey. “The construction sector in Turkey prioritizes quantity and profit over quality and that is why we are faced with this devastating loss of life.”

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