For more than five weeks, Turkey has been dealing with the consequences of a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the southeast of the country.
But pressure is mounting on authorities to prepare for the possibility of another natural disaster of unimaginable proportions in Istanbul.
“The outlook for Istanbul is not bright. It’s not bright at all,” says Professor Celal Sengor, one of Turkey’s most prominent geoscientists.
“If a major earthquake does not occur in the next twenty years in Istanbul, then we would all be very surprised. It’s just a probability, but the probability is high,” the Istanbul Technical University professor told CNN.
With two main fault lines in its vicinity, that of North Anatolia and that of East Anatolia, Turkey is one of the most seismically active regions in the world. It’s a geological reality that has raised concerns about Istanbul’s earthquake preparedness.
Once the capital of both the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire, the densely populated city is home to around 16 million people. It lies precariously close to the North Anatolian Fault, (it is an active dextral strike fault in northern Anatolia and is the transform boundary between the Eurasian Plate and the Anatolian Plate) which passes within 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) of Istanbul and through Sea of Marmara, according to the Geological Society of London.
Historically, the North Anatolian Fault has led to several catastrophic earthquakes, including a magnitude 7.6 earthquake that struck the nearby city of Izmit in 1999, killing over 17,000 people and displacing an estimated 500,000 others.
Today, experts estimate that another earthquake across the North Anatolian Fault could reach a magnitude of 7.2 and 7.8, with devastating consequences for Turkey’s commercial and industrial center. However, the timing of such an earthquake is impossible to predict.
A study conducted by the Kandilli Observatory and the Earthquake Research Institute estimates a death toll of more than 14,000 if a magnitude 7.5 earthquake in Istanbul were to strike at night. However, some experts believe that the number will be much higher.
“My estimate is around 100,000. It will be chaos. You can’t just think about the immediate impact of the swing, you have to think about what will follow the swing. There will be looting, fires, epidemics. It will be terrible”, says Sengor.
Current forecasts from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality indicate that a magnitude 7.5 earthquake along the North Anatolian Fault could lead to the destruction of around 90,000 buildings in the city, with another 260,000 buildings facing significant damage. It’s a stark forecast that could leave as many as 4.5 million people homeless, according to city officials — that’s more than a quarter of Istanbul’s population.
Now, after more than 48,000 people were killed in Turkey by last month’s earthquake, Istanbul is racing to shore up its defenses against a natural disaster that experts say could strike at any moment.