Turks held a moment of silence, lit torches and laid wreaths on earthquake monuments early on Monday, remembering the victims of a devastating earthquake in northwestern Turkey 10 years ago.
According to official records, 18,373 people died, 48,901 people were injured and hundreds of thousands of people became homeless following the magnitude 7.4 quake that struck on Aug. 17, 1999.
Remembering the earthquake victims, people gathered at various locations in Turkey. In the province of İzmit, where there is a memorial for the earthquake victims, hundreds of people gathered before clocks showing 03:02, the time of the Aug. 17 earthquake. At 03:02, sirens went off, and the names of each person lost during the earthquake were read. Some citizens who walked the 30-kilometer path to the memorial from their homes in Kuruçeşme protested officials, claiming that they were removed from their homes built after the earthquake in order to relocate the victims.
There was a traffic jam for some time due to the protestors' walk on the D-100 highway. Kocaeli Earthquake Victims Association remembered the victims by lighting torches, starting in front of İzmit Central Bank. They were supported by residents, who joined in by hanging slogans from their balconies, and drivers in their vehicles, which formed convoys.
In addition, the General Directorate of Disaster Affairs, Turkish Red Crescent, Kocaeli University and Kocaeli Greater Municipality had a memorial program in Kocaeli's Gölcük town.
Among the participants were Kocaeli Governor Gökhan Sözer, politicians, the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate head Hasan İpek, Red Crescent President Tekin Küçükali, Red Crescent Consultant Professor Ahmet Mete Işıkara, Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects' Chambers (TMMOB) President Mehmet Soğancı and several other officials and non-governmental organization officials.
The officials greeted the members of the “North Anatolia Fault Line Bicycle Tour” arriving in Gölcük from the eastern town of Erzincan.
Governor Sözer said the society should be prepared for disaster. “The earthquake damaged school buildings and three hospitals in Kocaeli. The buildings have been retrofitted in time. There have been serious infrastructure construction,” he added. İpek also agreed with Sözer and said that the society as a whole is responsible for earthquake preparedness. He also reminded that the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate is now under the Prime Ministry, which will deal with earthquake preparedness activities.
“Turkey has gone a long way in 10 years,” he said. Meanwhile, in Sakarya's Serdivan, there was a religious ceremony held for the lives lost during the Aug. 17 earthquake. A 10-year-old victim's mother told the Anatolia news agency that her pain is still fresh. “I cannot believe that 10 years have passed since the earthquake. I have been living as if only 10 days have passed,” Zuhal Akdağ said. During the ceremony in Kocaeli, a man, Behçet Y., punched the Gölcük Mayor Mehmet Ellibeş, shouting: “Mayor, my shop was destroyed. What is going to happen?”
However, Ellibeş said he is not going to file charges against the man, saying that he is the son of one of the municipality workers, and he was under the influence of alcohol.
“He did not know what he was doing. He already apologized. And I forgive him,” Ellibeş said. Behçet Y. was detained, and the investigation about the incident is continuing.
“We have to review what needs to be done,” President Abdullah Gul said in an anniversary statement. “We have to learn from experience, make sure our citizens are made conscious of the fact that Turkey is a country of earthquakes and overcome our shortcomings.”
Several hundred thousand people were left homeless, and some still live in housing that was supposed to be temporary. More rigorous building codes that were introduced after the quake have had a limited impact on densely packed İstanbul, which is vulnerable to seismic activity because it lies close to the North Anatolian fault line that runs into the sea. The center of the earthquake was Kocaeli, only 120 kilometers away from İstanbul. Experts warn the country is still ill-prepared if a big tremor strikes İstanbul. The annual probability of a large earthquake in İstanbul is 2 percent, a likelihood matched only by Tokyo and San Francisco. The Aug. 17 earthquake increased tectonic stress on the Marmara fault line in İstanbul.
“Firstly, we need to keep our buildings strong. We have serious problems there. In general, until now, there has been negligence where development and expansion is concerned,” Anatolia quoted State Minister Mehmet Aydın as saying at a quake preparedness forum at Istanbul Technical University. İstanbul prepared an earthquake master plan after the quakes, assessing buildings' ability to withstand quakes and earmarking those that needed reinforcement or demolition. Still, preparations have lagged, partly because of lax regulation.
Turkey's new procurement and housing minister, Mustafa Demir, said his ministry was working on plans to introduce stricter construction regulations and oversight as well as punishment for government officials, engineers or construction workers who do not adhere to rules. In İstanbul, buildings built prior to the year 2000 present a big problem.