Istanbul sits near active fault lines but a relatively minor jolt was enough to cause mass panic Thursday. People scrambled for safety and sought to call their loved ones elsewhere in the city in the aftermath of the earthquake off the coast of Silivri, a district on the far western side of Istanbul.
The 5.8-magnitude earthquake was followed by countless aftershocks and another major temblor at 11:20 p.m., though weaker in magnitude than the first one that occurred at 1:59 p.m. Thursday, concerned residents.
Parks in some districts were full of panicked citizens. Some set up tents and spent the night in the parks in Bahçelievler, a district with damaged buildings.
Hours after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake jolted Istanbul, the city held an emergency meeting Friday on the National Disaster Response Plan (TAMP) after officials saw a gap in its disaster response activities.
Vice President Fuat Oktay, who chaired the talks at the Disaster and Emergency Management Center in Hasdal neighborhood, spoke to reporters before the meeting and shared with the press the latest statistics regarding the damage in the aftermath of the strong tremor.
Oktay said all reports of damage and calls of distress had been examined, and necessary measures were taken.
"The number of reports of damaged buildings the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) has received is 473. Most of the damage on the buildings is minor with some cracks appearing on the walls. All of these damaged buildings will be examined and their respective owners will be informed of the outcome," he said. No serious damage to infrastructure occurred, he added.
AFAD earlier reported that a minaret of a mosque in Avcılar district had collapsed while two buildings in Sultangazi and Eyüp districts were significantly damaged. A house in Şirinevler district also tilted after the quake, prompting an evacuation of the building and surrounding areas.
Oktay also said that 55 schools had been reportedly damaged, and they had been checked by officials. "14 schools will need a more thorough examination, and hence they have been closed for a day," he announced.
The vice president said 34 citizens had suffered injuries during the quake, but only 10 were still in hospital receiving treatment and the rest had been discharged.
"There have been 188 aftershocks after the earthquake, with the largest being a magnitude of 4.1," Oktay added.
Residents of Istanbul turned to every source of information they could find about the earthquake and aftershocks, but fake news also spread. A voice recording making rounds on social media warned about a major earthquake early Friday, but authorities dismissed the rumors while investigations were launched against those spreading fake news online, including unfounded reports that the bridges connecting the city's two sides were about to collapse.
The highest authority to have a say on the earthquake is naturally the one breaking the news first. Kandilli Observatory, the main earthquake monitoring station in the country, however, paints a gloomy picture. Professor Haluk Özener, head of the observatory, told reporters Friday that there was "an accumulation of energy" in the fault line and it would eventually "come out."
"We are heading towards an end but it is impossible to predict its time," he said, echoing other experts' views that a "big one" will strike Istanbul sooner or later. "The public should not focus on the day or hour of the next earthquake but awareness to damage by the earthquake," he said, calling upon citizens to be more cautious about preparations for a major earthquake. "We should accept that Turkey is a country of earthquakes. Many scientists agree with the prediction that the next big earthquake will take place in Marmara [the region where Istanbul and several other western cities like Bursa and Yalova are located]," he said.
Turkey is among the world's most seismically active countries as it is situated on several active fault lines, and dozens of minor earthquakes and aftershocks occur daily. The most potentially devastating fault line is the North Anatolian fault line (NAF), where the Anatolian and Eurasian plates meet. A strike-slip fault that formed as the Anatolian plate was being pushed northwestwards by the Arabian plate, the NAF has produced devastating earthquakes throughout history.
The last time the section of the fault south of Istanbul produced a major earthquake was May 22, 1766, causing great damage to the city and killing thousands. To the west, the Ganos fault located some 20 kilometers south of Tekirdağ province on the seabed produced a magnitude 7.4 earthquake in 1912. To the east, the last major earthquake produced by the fault was of more recent memory. More than 17,000 people were killed and over 43,000 injured when a magnitude 7.4 quake rocked the Marmara region for 37 seconds in the early hours of Aug. 17, 1999, with its epicenter located in Gölcük province, some 75 kilometers southeast of the Bosporus. Three months later, on Nov. 12, 1999, 845 people were killed and nearly 5,000 injured when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Düzce province, about 120 kilometers northeast of Gölcük.