Death toll continues to climb 5 days after two massive earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria

Written by Mary Wasson, Meteorologist

Last updated 2/10/2023, 5:08:18 PM

This week we turned our attention to the other side of the world where two devastating earthquakes shook Turkey and Syria. This crippled the counties causing catastrophic damage and sadly, a death toll of over 23,000  with tens of thousands injured.

The USGS said the first earthquake struck at 4:17 am local time about 20 miles from the city of Gaziantep. It measured a 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale and lasted between 60 and 75 seconds. Multiple aftershocks followed but then a couple hours later, a 7.5 magnitude quake struck about 60 miles away but in the same area in Southern Turkey and Northwestern Syria. 

This region isn’t a stranger to disastrous earthquakes. In fact, just a few years ago (January 2020) this area was struck by a magnitude 6.7 quake that caused significant damage. In 1999, a series of earthquakes hit northwest Turkey and a 7.4 magnitude quake hit Istanbul, killing about 17,000 people. The last 7.8 magnitude earthquake to strike (before Monday) was in 1939. It shook the Erzincan area where in some areas, the ground slipped more than 12 feet horizontally along the North Anatolian fault line! That quake killed more than 30,000 people.

We have many things to study and understand about these recent earthquakes. Morehead State University professor and Geology Department Chair, Eric Jerde, answers some questions we have. 

What fault lines are producing these earthquakes? 

The region where this occurred is along a boundary between the African, Arabian, and Eurasian tectonic plates.  They are convergent boundaries, with continental crust colliding (the Mediterranean Sea is getting smaller as Africa and Arabia are moving north and jostling each other.)  Hence the common magnitude 4 or 5 quakes.

Was this a surprise or had it been building up for years? 

The big quakes of a couple of days ago are a typical result of "building up".  When they happen, of course, individuals are surprised, but it is not a surprise that one might occur. It was simply a matter of when. Just like in California, big quakes seldom happen, but we know one will someday.  And it will not really be a surprise except to those who happen to be there at the moment.  A magnitude 7.5 quake releases more than 5000 times the energy of a magnitude 5 quake.  So as plates are pushing against each other some energy is released by those mag 5s, but there are not enough of them to release all of it, so eventually you get a big one that releases it.  That's why it is a false sense of security when there is a smaller quake in a place like California and folks think "Maybe that released the stress, and we won't have the big one."  You'd have to have thousands of small quakes to do that job.

Why was it so devastating for these particular countries? Could you retrofit these buildings or rebuild to code?

Like many countries in the developing world, building codes are either not up to what they should be, or they are ignored in construction.  As such, shaking simply rattles everything down.  In the United States, places that are earthquake prone (think California) require all sorts of special considerations when building.  You cannot assure perfection, but it greatly enhances the chance for survival.  In Japan, modern buildings are so well constructed that they will sometimes just tip over.  People may be injured, and some killed, but there is no wholesale destruction.  Older areas and houses are often the worst areas for fires and collapse.  Retrofitting is possible, but expensive, particularly in large buildings.  It involves sheathing support structures with metal jackets to strengthen.  When rebuilding, modern techniques will need to be followed to plan for the future.  The downside is that it adds significant cost.  In poorer nations, it just isn't feasible.


The search and rescue is ongoing and there have been several good outcomes. On Friday, a 10 day old little boy was rescued with his mother from a collapsed building. The rescue of the tiny baby and his mother helped lift the spirits of search and rescue crews. 

Over the next several months, donations will be needed to help the people impacted by this natural disaster. Here’s a list of non-profits  on the ground and ready to serve