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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

World mourns as earthquakes strike Turkey, Syria

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Mesut Hancer is a night-time baker and a caring father in the Turkish city of Marash. As hell broke loose with the first earthquake at 4:15 a.m. local time Monday, Feb. 6, the 49-year-old rushed back home only to find that his teenage daughter, Irmak, was dead. 

The time copied the freezing cold and froze. He sat there in the rubble holding his daughter’s hand, the only piece stuck outside of her body that had been buried under the slabs of concrete. 

It’s a heart-wrenching story, one about the thousands of lives affected by the earthquakes that hit about the same time and place.  

In Florida and at UF, there are many with Turkish roots. They feel appalled, ruined and devastated — certainly not fine when asked how they are.

These quakes that struck Turkey and Syria were apocalyptic. NASA and the US Geological Survey note their magnitude merits comparison to others such as the 1906 San Francisco and the 2011 Japan earthquakes. 

Yet what throws these tremors off the charts is their mortal force, a force that created a catastrophe of biblical proportions; and there is a scientific explanation behind it. 

Southeast Turkey near the Syrian border is a seismically active region intersecting three tectonic faults. Geoscientist Celal Sengor said these faults — Anatolian, Arabian, and Adana plates — are plane-boundary strike-slip types so they tend to shift and drift. 

At 4:15 a.m. Monday, the Arabian plate moved northward and collided with the Anatolian and shorter Adana plates, squeezing the region out toward the west. The first earthquake was 7.8 magnitude followed minutes later by a 6.7 aftershock and hours later by a 7.5 earthquake. 

In effect, the energy of such tremors is equal to and greater than 8 million tons of TNT and 32 mid-range atomic bombs. Sjinji Toda of Japan’s Tohoku University explains the epicenter of these tremors was close to the ground surface in Maras, the city where Mesut’s beautiful Irmak was sleeping on her bed. 

It was so close that these tremors are likely the biggest and deadliest land earthquakes ever recorded in modern history.

Above the ground, the statistics and demographics wouldn't ward off the natural assault. Spanning over 42 thousand square miles, the quake-struck region is home to 13 million people.

That features an area larger than 17 states across the United States. The area is more densely populated than many US states, all while people living in towering buildings that were prone to destruction from horizontal motions. The tectonic plates below the region have an uncountable number of these motions in store, so far not shying away from striking with them in the form of aftershocks and more quakes as predicted in the bad case scenarios.

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The bad news united the world as fast as it traveled. 

Indeed, countries aiding and mourning are somewhat identical with countries listed on a political map of the world. The neighboring states, NATO members, and Latin American, Asian, and African countries have been on board since Day 1 as their good citizens continue to shower the region with prayers, rescuers, and resources. 

The relief efforts even defy political and ethno-religious divisions as the Greeks, Armenians, Ukrainians, Russians, Palestinians and Israelis come side by side in their efforts to pull survivors from rubble. 

This is a humanitarian relief the likes of which I haven’t seen in my long research about global encounters with that part of the world. 

The hopes for better futures aside, any hope like Mesut had to rescue his beloved daughter Irmak is fading. The time is no longer frozen either. It’s already 8 days past; 2 quakes and 2,442 aftershocks later: 37,774 humans were reported dead, many homes razed to the ground.

The search and rescue efforts are now evolving into a mission of maintaining the survivors (more than 83,228; a number that needs to be multiplied with Mesut). 

Against worsening and horrific conditions cited in the World Health Organization, it will be a long drive and no easy task to bring on all the good that is promised or projected.    

The world marshaled its deepest sympathies and generous resources to the people affected by the catastrophe. In the horizon, the reconstruction of the area and people will require continuous support and years much longer than a 3-month regional state of emergency that is now in effect. 

The Gainesville community joins the world mourning for the victims. Turkish and Syrian individuals lean on Gator nation to give a caring hand to Mesut and other survivors this time and evermore. 

Emrah Sahin is a UF Turkish studies professor and an expert on the Middle East and the Wider World.

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