Turkey-Syria earthquake is one of the deadliest in years, here's why

The death toll now stands at over 5,000.
Chris Young
An aerial view of collapsed buildings after massive earthquakes hit Hatay, Turkey, on February 7, 2023.
An aerial view of collapsed buildings after massive earthquakes hit Hatay, Turkey, on February 7, 2023.

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The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria on Monday is likely to go down as one of the deadliest this decade, according to a report from Reuters.

Scientists have estimated that the earthquake resulted in a more than 62-mile (100-km) rupture between the Anatolian and Arabian plates. Here is what scientists have to say about the ongoing disaster.

Where is the epicenter of the earthquake?

The epicenter of the earthquake is located 16 miles (26 km) east of the Turkish city of Nurdagi, 11 miles (18 km) below the Earth's surface on the East Anatolian Fault. The quake struck in the early hours of Monday morning, and its impact spread northeast from the epicenter, bringing destructive force to central Turkey and Syria.

Then, at around 13:30 local time, another 7.5 magnitude quake struck from roughly 4 miles (7 km) below the Earth's surface in the Elbistan region of the Kahramanmaras province, bringing further destruction.

What is the impact of the earthquake so far?

More than 5,000 people have been confirmed dead due to the earthquake so far, and this number is expected to rise. In a recent statement, Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) added that roughly 8,000 people had been rescued from more than 4,700 destroyed buildings so far.

Turkey-Syria earthquake is one of the deadliest in years, here's why
People in Syria searching for victims and survivors amidst the collapsed buildings on February 6, 2022.

While there's no certainty over what the final death toll will be, a similar 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal in 2015 resulted in almost 9,000 deaths.

Why has the earthquake been so deadly?

Out of the top ten deadliest earthquakes between 2013 and 2022, only two were of the same magnitude as this week's earthquake. What's more, aside from the second 7.5-magnitude quake, the region has also suffered a number of aftershocks, including one of 6.7 magnitude on the Richter scale.

As Roger Musson, an honorary research associate at the British Geological Survey, pointed out to Reuters, "what we are seeing now is the activity is spreading to neighboring faults," said Musson. "We expect seismicity to continue for a while."

The East Anatolian Fault is a strike-slip fault. This means that two solid rock plates are pushing against each other on a vertical fault line, building up a huge amount of pressure over time. The San Andreas Fault in California is also a strike-slip fault, and scientists have warned that a large earthquake is overdue in the region.

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Other factors include infrastructure issues in the region, as well as adverse weather affecting rescue efforts. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Mustafa Erdik, professor at Bogazici University's Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute in Istanbul, said, "one of the reasons why the number of casualties has been so high is the poor quality of the buildings."

Is the region very prone to large earthquakes?

In 2020, Turkey recorded almost 33,000 earthquakes in the region, according to Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). Out of those earthquakes, 332 earthquakes were of magnitudes 4.0 and higher. 

The region affected by the earthquake has faced numerous major earthquakes throughout history. In 1822, a 7.0 magnitude quake in the region killed an estimated 20,000 people. More recently, in 1999, the İzmit earthquake in Turkey went down as one of the country's deadliest disasters, resulting in roughly 17,000 casualties.

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