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The Lives Behind the Turkey-Syria Earthquake

Emilia explains the recent horrifying earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.

Recently, the Turkey-Syria earthquake has been all over the news. To say you’ve been ‘living under a rock’ if you haven’t heard about it seems to hit too close to home, when the current reality of many people living in these countries is that they are stuck under the buildings they believed to be safe.

On 6th February, an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude hit Turkey and Syria. This was followed by another quake hours later of 7.5 magnitude, as well as hundreds of aftershocks. But what even is an earthquake, the term that describes such a tragic event?

The affected area of Turkey and Syria is at the intersection of three tectonic plates – the Anatolian, Arabian, and African plates, and it is at plate boundaries such as these that earthquakes generally occur. Plates always move; the Anatolian plate was being pushed westwards (about 2cm per year) against the Eurasia plate by the north-heading Arabian Plate, creating pressure that increased until one of the plates eventually slipped. This is called a strike-slip fault. It happened along the East Anatolian fault line meaning the epicentre was not a single point, but rather the fault line for around 400km. It was this energy, which had been building for many years, that was released and caused the earthquake. Both the quakes were shallow strike-slip faults; the first happened 11 miles below ground and the second 6 miles down. This extreme shallowness leads to more damage to areas as it causes greater shaking than deeper quakes.


Credit: Getty Images

This is one of the worst earthquakes ever felt by Turkey; tremors were felt as far as Cyprus, and seismic readings were even recorded on a seismometer in Comrie, the ‘shaky toun’ of Scotland. However, it wasn’t just the power of the earthquake that caused such a devastating impact; many buildings were not built to be earthquake-proof. For some this was due to age, for others it was due to a lack of enforcement of earthquake regulations on construction companies; the Turkish government can issue amnesties that serve as exemptions from building to these regulations if companies pay a fee. Allegedly, up to 75,000 buildings in the affected areas could have had these amnesties.

But earthquakes are not just statistical, geological phenomenons – earthquakes have real-life impacts. 40,000 people are already said to have died, whilst many more are missing, and cold winter temperatures are making conditions dangerous for survivors and those still potentially buried in the rubble. This is not just another news story; this is real people.

A woman named Necla was buried when her home collapsed in the earthquake. In her arms, she held her 10-day-old baby, and only a wardrobe stopped them from being crushed by further debris. They were buried for four days in the pitch-black hoping to be rescued, aware of only rubble around them and very little sense of time. Naturally, Necla never imagined she would ever be in the situation she found herself in. She told reporters; “You plan lots of things when you have a new baby, and then… all of a sudden you’re under rubble.” Necla managed to feed her baby with breast milk, and said he helped her to survive by keeping her hope alive. Eventually, the pair were found, carefully removed from the rubble by rescuers, and taken to hospital where Necla found out that her husband and other son were also safe.


Credit: BBC

But others were not so lucky.

A BBC article about two best friends is particularly poignant. It tells the story of 19-year-old Ceyda who lived in a close-knit community in Iskenderun – the kind of place where families and friends regularly meet up for tea. Ceyda and her best friend Damla had known each other since they were children, and the two had been hoping to go to university in Istanbul together. These hopes were destroyed when Ceyda’s house, too, was destroyed in the earthquake. After the quake, Damla was immediately at Ceyda’s house looking for her friend. She showed interviewers a photo of a cake Ceyda had made for Damla’s birthday iced with the words ‘”Who loves you the most in the world? Us of course!” and decorated with butterflies. Not long before the earthquake, the two friends went shopping together and bought butterfly curtains for Ceyda’s room.

After February 6th, the butterfly curtains could be seen flying in the wind, the only sign of serenity in an otherwise wrecked and rubbled area. Allegedly the flat complex fell ‘like dominoes’ and only a few remnants are left of the lives that lived there; a red clock, a Disney kite, and the butterfly curtains. Despite everything, Damla said she still had hope that her best friend would be found and “will smile again”. The article ends with an update posted shortly after the initial publication; Ceyda’s body was found and buried shortly after. Some people are still being rescued, such as one 17-year-old who was saved after 10 days submerged under rubble.



If you would like to help the people affected by the earthquakes, donations are needed for essentials such as food, water, clothing, toiletries, and search and rescue, and can be made to several organisations:

A GoFundMe page set up by Turkish and Syrian students at St Andrews (

British Red Cross (

Oxfam: Turkey and Syria earthquake response appeal (

UNICEF: Appeal for the earthquake in Turkey and Syria (

DEC Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal (



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