Pancake collapse: Turkey Earthquake 2023

Devastating earthquake of magnitude 7.8 hit southern Turkey and parts of Syria at 4.17am on Monday followed by magnitude 7.5 nine hours later. According to United States Geological Survey (USGS), the depth of the first earthquake was at a depth of 18 kilometers and 7.5 magnitude aftershock was 10 kilometers. The relatively shallow depth earthquake has been classified “major” on Richter scale.

The region lies in an area where three tectonic plates meet, making it one of the most earthquake-prone in the world. The region has experienced number of earthquakes in the past, which includes a quake in 1999 of magnitude-7.4 around 11 kilometers southeast of Izmit that killed more than 17,000 people. After this earthquake new building codes was introduced by the government of Turkey.

However, the recent earthquake has taken more than 35000 lives and affected nearly 13 million people. According to Turkish authorities, at least 33,143 buildings have been destroyed and the death toll rising as bodies has been pulled out of the collapsed structure. With such a damage, experts have started questioning the implementation of building code. It is known fact that building code always tries to avoid total collapse which was the opposite that was seen in Turkey.

The stricking feature of the building damage is the type of collapse which is called pancake collapse (floors piled one on top of another with the walls fallen away completely). Reports says that there was tremendous loss of life from pancaked buildings as this type of collapse makes it difficult to save life as Kathmandu had experience in 2015 Gorkha earthquake.

The modern building (built from concrete) collapsing in pancake mode has raised the alarm on safe building construction and implementation to seismic building code. Among different factors, experts have identified inadequate seismic reinforcement and poor quality of building the main reason for such a massive damage.

The massive damage of building in Turkey reminds of the damage of modern buildings in Kathmandu during 2015 Gorkha earthquake.  It is time for us to learn the role of local agency in constructing safe building.

Inu Pradhan Salike