Istanbul launches program to check buildings’ safety following deadly quakes

The Turkish largest city Istanbul has launched a massive program to check the safety of its buildings in the wake of the recent deadly earthquakes that killed 44,000 people in the country.

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A resident watches as the municipality team conducts a test to measure the safety of a building in Istanbul, Türkiye, on Feb. 23, 2023. (Xinhua/Shadati)

Türkiye’s largest city Istanbul has launched a program to provide rapid scans of buildings as many residents worry about the safety of their residences in the wake of recent devastating earthquakes that have killed over 44,000 people in the country.

As the country’s financial and cultural hub with over 16 million residents, Istanbul is located at the west end of the North Anatolian Fault Line, which has produced many major earthquakes throughout history. The city government launched the scanning program in a bid to soothe the nerves of local residents.

The service, which includes measuring the consistency of concrete and counting the number of rebars with X-ray scan, will evaluate the strength of the ground and rate the safety level of the checked building accordingly.

Ozlem Tut, head of the Municipality’s Earthquake Risk Management and Urban Improvement Department, told reporters last Thursday that they received 85,000 applications for the test since the deadly dual tremors took place on Feb. 6.

“There has been a lot of concern after the earthquakes,” Tut said, “we will respond to all of it.”

The municipal teams prioritize structures built before 2000, checking 150 buildings per day.

If the concrete’s strength is reported as “weak,” then it will be reinforced. If reinforcement is not possible, then the building will be demolished before a new one is built. In case of demolition, the city provides up to 4,500 Turkish liras (238 U.S. dollars) in rental assistance to its residents.

In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake rattled the industrialized Marmara region, home to Istanbul, killing more than 17,000 people and leaving some 300,000 homeless. The devastation forced the authorities to adopt regulations with nominal construction quality after 2000.

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu urged residents to cooperate on the issue, as there is considerable work in the megalopolis of over 1.16 million buildings. According to the 2021 building inventory, about half of the buildings do not meet earthquake resistance standards.

“This is a call for mobilization,” Imamoglu announced on his social media accounts. “Thousands of buildings in Istanbul must be demolished and constructed to be earthquake-proof.”

Meanwhile, Istanbul University Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty Hospital suspended all the health and education services in its 17 buildings in the compound in the Fatih district on the city’s European side after an earthquake risk examination.

On Monday, Faculty President Nuri Aydin told reporters that the test results revealed that the buildings were at risk and the evacuation had started. This state-owned hospital is one of the most comprehensive health facilities in the city.

In the wake of the deadly tremors in early February, many Istanbul residents plan to move to earthquake-proof buildings, while the authorities are scrambling to evaluate the buildings’ strength.

Kerem Koramaz, a resident living in the Bakirkoy district on Istanbul’s European side, told Xinhua that he had applied for testing the safety of his apartment, built in 2005, in case of an earthquake strike.

“What we as citizens need most is technical support from local administrations and public institutions, which will be there for us during this process,” Koramaz said.

As a result, the rents of new apartments have skyrocketed in the city recently.

The rents of new apartment buildings have increased 10 to 20 percent in the past 15 days, said Muttalip Iscan, a real estate agent in Istanbul.

Xinhua News Agency

Founded in 1931, Xinhua News Agency is one of the largest news organizations in the world, with over 10,000 employees across the globe. As the main source of news and information for China, Xinhua plays a key role in shaping the country's media landscape and communicating its perspectives to the world. The agency produces a wide range of content, including text news articles, photos, videos, and social media posts, in both Chinese and English, and its reports are widely used by media organizations around the world. Xinhua also operates several international bureaus, including in key capitals like Washington, D.C., Moscow, and London, to provide in-depth coverage of global events.

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