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US seismologist accuses Turkey’s state-run news agency of distorting her remarks on earthquake

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Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency has drawn criticism from an American seismologist who accused the agency of distorting her remarks in order to show that the vast devastation caused by a powerful earthquake that hit Turkey’s south on Feb. 6 was inevitable.

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked parts of southern Turkey and northern Syria in the early hours of Feb. 6, claiming more than 35,000 lives so far. It is the strongest to hit Turkey since 1939, when an earthquake of the same magnitude killed 30,000 people, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Anadolu, which is accused of acting as the mouthpiece of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), on Feb. 10 published a report that included the views of seismologists from around the world including those from Japan, Italy and Switzerland in addition to US about the earthquake in Turkey.

The report included the views of Dr. Judith Hubbard, a visiting assistant professor at the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences department at Cornell University in New York, who allegedly said one can treat this earthquake as extraordinary because it had a magnitude of 7.8 and was more powerful than any other earthquakes recorded on that particular fault line.

All the seismologists quoted by Anadolu talked about the magnitude of the earthquake, which implicitly backed the government narrative that not much could have been done to prevent the damage it caused.

However, an opinion piece written by Hubbard and published by the English version of Anadolu did not exactly include such comments from the professor but instead said: “Both of these earthquakes were larger than any previously recorded for the East Anatolian Fault, even with historical records going back one thousand years. This is not an unusual situation: Faults are unpredictable and slow.”

In her article Hubbard also wrote that the earthquakes were natural but the devastation was in part “man-made.”

“Horrific footage of collapsing buildings illustrates the risk of inadequate construction in an earthquake-prone region. Globally, multi-story concrete slab buildings with incorrect concrete or insufficient reinforcement have proved to be extremely dangerous. Although modern building codes do exist in Türkiye, many of the structures predate their existence. Retrofitting existing buildings is expensive and difficult, but without such work, many millions of people will remain at risk. Further, there is evidence that many newer buildings did not conform to the code; some of these buildings collapsed on Monday.”

Anadolu’s English site included a note at the end of Hubbard’s article saying that the opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu.​​​​​​​

The professor said on Twitter on Sunday that her remarks were misused by Anadolu to push “a misleading narrative.”

“As an earthquake scientist, I am used to people misunderstanding what I say; it’s my responsibility to do better. But the idea that a gov’t might misuse my words to push a misleading narrative is new & dismaying. The earthquake was inevitable. The scale of the disaster was not,” she tweeted.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, officials from his AKP government and pro-government media outlets have since the earthquake been claiming that the enormous damage caused by the earthquake was inevitable due to its magnitude.

Yet many say the devastation is a result of shoddy construction, the lack of required inspections and government corruption.

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