Critical data on İstanbul’s structurally unsound buildings hidden to ‘avoid chaos’

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A Turkish academic has revealed that critical data regarding buildings in İstanbul that would collapse or sustain heavy damage in the event of a large-magnitude earthquake were hidden from the public so as to “avoid chaos,” the Birgün daily reported on Thursday.

The issue came to light during a meeting at parliament between representatives from Turkey’s earthquake-related foundations and the Earthquake Research Committee, which is composed of 22 lawmakers.

The committee was established in early November to investigate measures that must be taken against earthquakes in the aftermath of an earthquake in the western province of İzmir that claimed the lives of 116 people and injured over 1,000.

Professor Alper İlki, a member of the board of the Turkish Earthquake Foundation (TDV), on Wednesday briefed the MPs, saying an in-depth analysis must be carried out to be able to improve the country’s building stock and that current structures can withstand earthquakes if they are properly reinforced.

“We need a campaign to make this transition happen, we have no other choice. Now, for example, the İstanbul Municipality [İBB] started something, somewhat wildly, we thought. We told them not to do it. What will they do when the statistics are out and we find that 80 or 90 percent of the residents live in unsafe houses? What then?” İlki said.

İlki was referring to a recent report by the İBB’s Statistics Office that said 48,000 buildings in the city would either collapse or sustain heavy damage in an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5, while some 194,000 buildings would suffer “medium” or slightly higher damage.

The İBB report highlighted the “big one,” a large-magnitude earthquake expected by many experts to hit İstanbul, which has a population over 15 million people. The city was shaken by a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in September 2019.

“How can the public live with this reality [revealed by the reports]?” Lütfi Kaşıkçı, a far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) lawmaker for Hatay province, asked İlki, who reportedly replied, “They probably can’t.”

İlki added that former reports involving similar statistics about buildings in İstanbul’s Zeytinburnu and Fatih districts were not shared with the public in order to “avoid the chaos they might trigger,” the Birgün report said.

Earthquake Engineering Association of Turkey (TDMD) Secretary-General Ayşegül Gündoğan also shared statistics in parliament on Wednesday, saying that 156 of a total of 169 people who died this year in earthquakes around the world with a magnitude over 6.5 were in Turkey.

“Earthquakes in [the eastern province of] Elazığ and İzmir have shown us that we still haven’t figured out the problems we have in disaster management,” she said.

A total of 41 people were killed and more than 1,600 were injured when an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 hit Elazığ in late January.

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