In Eastern Turkey, a California-Type Quake Kills at Least 57

BY Chris Amico  March 8, 2010 at 1:07 PM EDT

In eastern Turkey, at least 57 people are dead after a 6.0-magnitude temblor struck at 4:32 a.m. local time Monday, about 30 miles west of the city of Bingol.

Despite high-profile quakes in Haiti, Chile and now Turkey, there actually hasn’t been an uptick in seismic activity lately, Paul Caruso, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center, told The Rundown. Recent quakes have, however, struck close to population centers.

Earthquakes of Magnitude 5.0 or Greater in Past Week
View larger map Source: USGS

“Those buildings can be death traps,” he said, “even in small earthquakes.”

As we noted last week, deadly earthquakes happen fairly regularly, and fast-growing cities in the developing world are among the most vulnerable.

Turkey knows this all too well. In 1999, a 7.6-magnitude quake near Izmit in the western part of the country killed 17,118.

The plate tectonics of the region tend to produce shallow quakes that can be felt over a wide area. The latest was just 10 km deep and was felt from the Black Sea in the north to parts of Iraq and Syria on the south. Nearly 2 million people experienced at least moderate shaking, according to USGS data.

“It’s very similar to California,” Caruso said of the slip-strike fault where plates grind against each other. Chile, on the other hand, was a thrust fault, where one piece of the earth’s crust slammed into another.

But unlike the Golden State, where much of the infrastructure dates to the 1950s or later, many places sitting on slip-strike faults are full of older buildings that pre-date building codes. Combined with widespread poverty, what follows is devastation.

“That’s exactly what happened in Haiti,” Caruso said.