Two dead, dozens wounded as quake hits western Turkey

A building collapsed after a magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck western Turkey.

May 20, 2011, Friday/ 23:23:00

A 5.9 magnitude earthquake, which shook western Turkey on Thursday night, killed at least two people and injured over 120, authorities said on Friday.

The quake, which struck before midnight, was centered in the town of Simav, in central Kütahya province, the İstanbul-based Boğaziçi University's Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute said. Many terrified residents left their homes in panic after the quake, and some spent the night in streets and parks. Two people were killed in Simav, Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu told reporters. One of the victims was an 18-year-old man who was struck in the head by a concrete block as he was trying to leave his house in panic. The other victim reportedly suffered from a heart attack.

Some of the 122 people suffered injuries after jumping from balconies and windows, and others suffered from heart attacks or panic-related shock. One of the injured is reportedly in critical condition.

According to Mustafa Erdik of the Kandilli Observatory, Simav experienced the strongest earthquake of the last century in its region. “The strongest quake in the region can reach a magnitude of nine. Therefore, I recommend people residing in the region reinforce their buildings,” he said.

The quake also shook buildings further north in Turkey’s largest city, İstanbul, and across western Turkey. It was felt as far as the Aegean city of İzmir, the northwestern city of Bursa and even Edirne, close to the Greek and Bulgarian borders. Kandilli said there were at least 80 aftershocks. The observatory warned of more aftershocks in the coming days.

“Aid groups were mobilized shortly after the earthquake. They took aid to people in need. Our country is prone to earthquakes. We need to get accustomed to living with earthquakes,” Eroğlu said when speaking to reporters early Friday.

Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek addressed the Turkish nation in a live TV program and called on everyone to remain calm. “People in that region [around Kütahya] have experienced large-scale earthquakes in the past. For this reason, they are sensitive to quakes. They may get afraid [of quakes] sometimes. We lost two citizens for this reason. As the state, we sent aid groups to the region. Some of our ministers also traveled there.” The Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) sent TL 2 million to the Kütahya Governor’s Office as part of disaster management efforts.

Many residents in Simav spent the rest of the night in their cars or in the streets as authorities cautioned against them re-entering their homes. The Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) delivered blankets, tents and food to areas affected. It also set up soup kitchens. Most of Simav was without electricity and telephone lines were down. Officials from the Turkish Red Crescent also said the quake partly collapsed two empty buildings in Simav, along with a five-storey hospital and a mosque. Authorities evacuated the hospital and transferred the injured to other hospitals in the region.

Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, which is crossed by several fault lines. Small earthquakes are a near daily occurrence. In March 2010, a 6.0 magnitude quake knocked down houses in five villages in eastern Turkey, killing 51 people. In 2003, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake killed 177 people in the southeastern city of Bingöl, including 84 children whose school dormitory collapsed. In 1999, a magnitude 7.4 quake struck northwestern Turkey as a result of which over 18,000 people died and 48,000 were injured and thousands of people became homeless following the earthquake. All eyes are now on a silver mining and refining facility in Kütahya where an alleged leak from a cyanide pool was reported several days ago. Murat Nurlu, head of the emergency earthquake center at the prime minister’s office, said a team of experts has been dispatched to the mine to conduct an inspection.

The collapse of a tailings dam at the Eti Silver Corporation facility last week led to serious concerns among environmentalists and the general public. Despite official statements that the situation is under control, some environmental groups have remained unconvinced and various dailies have continued to report that the situation in Kütahya poses a serious risk for residents. The earthquake has added to already high concerns and fears in the area.

According to Nurlu, a group of experts was dispatched to the mine as part of a series of security measures, but not because of any imminent risk stemming from the facility. “We do not expect any negative conditions there. We have dispatched the experts to the area for security,” he said.

Eroğlu, however, said measures have already been taken at the site. “There is a major distance between the facility and the epicenter of the quake. We have taken all measures at the facility. There is no risk for the time being. We have checked the situation at the mine after the quake. We have taken all precautions to protect our people. We will make a statement if any risk emerges,” he stated.

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