The earthquake caused the most damage in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, with a population of nearly 3 million people. So far, there have been 79 deaths reported in Turkey and more than 100 people have been rescued alive from fallen debris, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Saturday.
Responding to the destruction from the quake, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said 26 badly damaged buildings would be demolished in Izmir. “It’s not the earthquake that kills but buildings,” he said.
An elderly man was pulled alive from the rubble on Sunday. That same day, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said there was “no clear number on how many people are still under rubble. Hard to give a number. There is an estimation, but I cannot share.”
There were no reported injuries to the 100 US military personnel currently stationed in Izmir, a spokesperson for NATO Allied Land Command told the Military Times on Friday.
The extent of the wreckage is commensurate with the size of the earthquake. According to the US Geological Survey, an agency that monitors seismic activity around the world in real time, the quake started six miles below ground and triggered extensive flooding in Izmir.
In an interview with local media outlet NTV on Friday, Izmir Mayor Ismail Yetiskin said sea levels had risen following the quake: “There seems to be a small tsunami.” A video posted by the Daily Sabah, a Turkish news agency, shortly after the earthquake hit showed floodwaters in a town near Izmir washing away furniture and other debris.
Turkey wasn’t the only nation hit. The impact of the earthquake was also felt in nearby Greece, where two teenagers lost their lives on the Greek island of Samos after a wall fell in on them, bringing the combined death toll for the two countries to 81. Samos was also inundated with flooding. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like the island or the country has suffered any further deaths.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday to offer his condolences. “Whatever our differences” — a reference to Greece and Turkey’s decades-long history of conflict — “these are times when our people need to stand together,” he said.
I just called President @RTErdogan to offer my condolences for the tragic loss of life from the earthquake that struck both our countries. Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together.
— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) October 30, 2020
Turkey and Greece are located on or near many active fault lines, so earthquakes are fairly common in the region. The area within 150 miles of where Friday’s quake struck has seen more than 29 earthquakes of a 6.0 or greater magnitude in the past 100 years.
As Vox’s Umair Irfan has explained, earthquakes can quickly arise on faults like these:
An earthquake occurs when massive blocks of the earth’s crust suddenly move past each other. These blocks, called tectonic plates, lie on top of the earth’s mantle, a layer that behaves like a very slow-moving liquid over millions of years.
That means tectonic plates jostle each other over time. They can also slide on top of each other, a phenomenon called subduction.
The places on the planet where one plate meets another are the most prone to earthquakes. The specific surfaces where parcels of earth slip past each other are called faults.
The most recent major earthquake to hit Turkey occurred in January in the country’s eastern province of Elzaig, killing more than 30 people. The last earthquake of a similar strength to Friday’s quake to hit Greece occurred in the Ionian Sea in October 2018, causing damage to buildings; no injuries were reported.
But while Turkey and Greece are unfortunately used to dealing with natural disasters, that doesn’t make Friday’s earthquake, or the ongoing recovery efforts, any easier.