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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 02:05 GMT
Turkey remembers 1999 earthquake
Kaynasli, east of Istanbul
Kaynasli, east of Istanbul: Turkish women outside their destroyed house
By Chris Morris in Istanbul

The terrible images from the devastating earthquake which struck western India last month have served as a painful reminder to many Turks of what they and their families have suffered over the last 18 months.

It was on 17 August 1999 that the first of two huge earthquakes hit north-western Turkey, killing more than 20,000 people. Since then, recovery has been a long and difficult process.


[The recovery has] taken a lot longer than we were promised. It has put off the day when we might try to get on with the rest of our lives

Earthquake victim
Tens of thousands of people are currently spending a second winter in temporary accommodation - some of them in tents, most of them in row upon row of prefabricated huts.

A few people have moved into permanent housing developments built in safer areas, but most of the new houses are still under construction.

"It's taken a lot longer than we were promised", one local resident, a university teacher, said. "It has put off the day when we might try to get on with the rest of our lives."

Psychological problems

Memories of the earthquake still hang heavy over the region, and psychological problems have multiplied.

Hamamustu on the North Anatolian Fault line, walk past the destroyed mosque
Villagers in Hamamustu on the North Anatolian Fault line, walk past the destroyed mosque
Some people have trouble sleeping, others become withdrawn. Last month, when a relatively minor tremor shook Istanbul during the night, thousands of people fled into the streets in panic.

The worst hit region around the eastern end of the Sea of Marmara is part of Turkey's industrial heartland. Big businesses have recovered well, and there has been less disruption in many industries than was initially anticipated.


There is an economic crisis around here. There are still so many people in need, but the focus of the state has moved on

Sefa Sirmen, mayor of Izmit
Small companies and entrepreneurs have suffered badly, however. Many shopkeepers were unable to reopen for business, as thousands of their former customers migrated away from the earthquake zone, and returned to other parts of the country.

"There is an economic crisis around here", said Sefa Sirmen, the mayor of Izmit.

"There are still so many people in need, but the focus of the state has moved on."

So towns which made headlines around the world, places like Izmit, Golcuk and Adapazari, have drifted back into obscurity. Damaged buildings still stand neglected, and survivors worry about the future.

Forgotten lessons

Experts are also concerned that the lessons which should have been learnt from the earthquake may be quickly forgotten.


It is just not acceptable to leave people the way they are.... every minute is as valuable as gold. The whole of Turkey is earthquake prone

Professor Aykut Barka of Istanbul Technical University
They plead for a sustained effort in enforcing better building regulations, and educating the public properly about the threat from earthquakes.

"It is just not acceptable to leave people the way they are... every minute is as valuable as gold," said Professor Aykut Barka of Istanbul Technical University in a recent newspaper interview.

"The whole of Turkey is earthquake prone."

There are a number of long-term rehabilitation projects scattered across the Marmara region, but it remains an often depressing place: a scarred landscape which will take many years to recover from the damage done in a few terrifying seconds.

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See also:

25 Jul 00 | Europe
Turkey scraps nuclear plan
06 Jun 00 | Europe
Quake shakes Turkey
05 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
The Earth's Ring of Fire
27 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Istanbul quake likely by 2030
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