Buildings that Should Not Have Collapsed in the Recent Turkey Earthquake

    Outrage grows in Turkey over the fact that poor enforcement of regulations contributed to the collapse of many buildings during Monday's earthquakes

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    The BBC has verified cases of newly built buildings that collapsed. A Malatya building (as seen below) was completed last year. Screenshots of an announcement that said it was “finished in accordance with the latest anti-seismic regulations” circulated through the networks.

    The text stated that the materials and workmanship used were of “first quality”. There is no trace of this announcement anymore, but several people had taken photos and videos and posted them on the internet. The ad matches the style of other similar ones on the company’s website. Another recently built apartment block in the port city of Iskenderun was also photographed and appears largely destroyed.

    Before and after: A newly built apartment block in Iskanderun

    The construction company for this building published an image showing that it was completed in 2019. The BBC verified that the image of the destroyed building (right) matches the location of the company’s publicity photo of the block (left).

    And the list gets longer…

    We have found a video of the inauguration ceremony of the housing complex, from November 2019. In these images the owner of a construction company involved says: “The GucluBahce city project is special compared to others because of its location and its constructive qualities”.

    Although the quakes were powerful, experts say that properly constructed buildings should have been able to stand. “The peak intensity of this earthquake was violent, but not necessarily enough to bring down well-constructed buildings.” This was stated by David Alexander, Professor of Emergency Planning and Management at University College London: “In most places, the level of shaking was less than the maximum, so we can conclude that, of the thousands of buildings that were collapsed, almost all of them do not meet any reasonably expected anti-seismic building code”.

    Breach of construction regulations

    Building regulations have been tightened in Turkey following previous disasters, including the most recent in 2018. Tighter safety regulations were also introduced following the 1999 earthquake around the northwestern city of Izmit, in the 17,000 people who died.

    The latest standards require structures in seismic regions to use high-quality concrete reinforced with steel bars. The columns and beams must also be distributed in such a way that they effectively absorb the impact of earthquakes.

    These laws have been very poorly applied

    “Part of the problem is that there is very little retrofitting of existing buildings, but there is also very little enforcement of building regulations in new construction,” Professor Alexander said. The government has granted periodic “construction amnesties” –in practice legal exemptions on payment of a fee– to structures built without the required safety certificates. They have been approved since the 1960s (the last one in 2018). Critics have long warned that such amnesties pose a catastrophic risk in the event of a major earthquake.

    Up to 75,000 buildings in the earthquake-affected area of southern Turkey have received building amnesties; this has been the case for a long time, according to Pelin Pınar Giritlioğlu, head of the Istanbul Chamber of Urban Planners of the Union of Chambers of Engineers and Architects of Turkey.

    A few days before the latest disaster, the Turkish media reported that a bill that would grant a new amnesty for recent construction works was pending parliamentary approval. Geologist CelalSengor declared earlier this year that approving this type of amnesty for construction in a country torn by geological fault lines amounts to a “crime”.

    After a deadly earthquake struck the western province of Izmir in 2020, a report by the BBC Turkish service revealed that 672,000 buildings in Izmir had benefited from the latest amnesty.

    This same report cited that the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning had declared in 2018 that more than 50% of the buildings in Turkey -which is equivalent to almost 13 million buildings- had been built in violation of the regulations.

    We have contacted the Ministry of Environment and Town Planning for comment on building regulations in Turkey following the most recent earthquakes. And this is what they replied: “No building built by our administration has collapsed. So far, damage assessment studies continue rapidly on the ground”.

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