7 million houses in Turkey unsafe, architects union says on anniversary of 1999 earthquake

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Yalova inhabitants try to retrieve some their belongings 18 August 1999 in Yalova on the Marmara coast. The powerful earthquake 17 August in Turkey has claimed over 3,500 lives and injured over 16,500 people. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) / AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVAT

The Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects’ Chambers (TMMOB) İstanbul office said on Wednesday that 7 million houses out of nearly 22 million across Turkey are not ready for a possible high-magnitude earthquake.

In a statement issued on the 18th anniversary of a 1999 earthquake centered in the Marmara region, the TMMOB said, “İstanbul, a city of up to 18 million people, will be squeezed into 20 hectares of safe land in a high-magnitude earthquake.”

Underlining that over 2 million residences in İstanbul are at risk of collapsing in any earthquake, the TMMOB statement noted that “in even the most optimistic prediction, the lives of thousands of İstanbul residents are in danger.”

The TMMOB also warned that many areas previously designated as earthquake shelters in İstanbul were now being used for other purposes. In March, the TMMOB revealed that 300 out of 470 such assembly areas were being used as shopping malls and business centers.

Speaking to HaberTürk TV on Wednesday, Turkey’s Minister for Environment and Urbanization Mehmet Özhaseki said the government would rebuild 7.5 million dwellings across Turkey within 15 years and that half of İstanbul’s buildings would also be ready for a strong earthquake within the same period.

The 1999 earthquake had a magnitude of 7.5 and hit Turkey’s mostly industrial and densely populated Marmara region, killing at least 17,480 people, according to official statements. Over 285,000 buildings were damaged and 600,000 people were left homeless after the 45-second temblor, which left social and economic wounds that took years to heal.

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