Turkey’s Earthquake is a Warning for California

Mirabelle Jiang

On Feb. 6, Turkey and Syria awoke to a 7.8 magnitude earthquake raining debris down upon their homes. The earthquake, striking heaviest in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, is the deadliest and most powerful earthquake that the two countries have seen in centuries. While countless buildings collapsed, the death toll has climbed past 50,000 as rescue teams continue search in the wreckage. On Feb. 7, glimmers of hope emerged from the despair when, nine survivors were dug out of the rubble. Still, pressure on relief organizations has continued to grow as the demand for shelters from almost a million homeless Turkish and Syrian refugees persists. To rally the spirits of his people, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to rebuild the homes now lying in ruins and overcome thee challenges—just as the country has countless times before. 

While thousands of well wishers in America have come together to support those who lost their lives in the Earthquake, many have expressed concern for the possibility of a similar tragedy occurring on our side of the Atlantic. Both California’s San Andreas Fault and Turkey’s East Anatolian Faults are examples of strike-slip faults, where tectonic plates slide horizontally across each other, Geophysicist David Oglsbey said. This similarity means that the San Andreas Fault is also capable of producing a magnitude 8 earthquake right here in Southern California, one even larger than the one that demolished hundreds of cities in Turkey and Syria. In fact, seismologists have continued to warn Californians about the possibility of the “Big One” striking anywhere from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the next 30 years. 

When an earthquake hits, a crucial factor in minimizing destruction is the rigorous implementation of building codes. Though Turkey’s construction codes meet earthquake-safe engineering standards, endemic corruption is suspected in contractors rarely enforcing them when developing buildings. The Turkish government has arrested over 100 contractors who have been accused of corrupt building practices that resulted in the collapse of thousands of buildings. Though the construction code is enforced tighter in California, flaws still slip through and remain unnoticed. For example, many buildings use non-ductile concrete construction, known for their flaws in the face of strong earthquakes, and as many as 640 unenforced masonry buildings, deemed dangerous and likely to be severely damaged in a quake, still stand in more than a dozen cities. With the stark example of the Kahramanmaras Earthquake in mind, it is crucial for danger zones, such as Southern California, to prepare itself for what will eventually come, and take measures to prevent such a tragedy from occurring yet again.