A 5.0-magnitude earthquake near a small town in western Turkey on Wednesday night was enough to spark fears that it might the "big one" predicted to hit Istanbul; however, experts say it was an isolated occurrence and an expected tremor.
The epicenter of the quake at 9:23 p.m. local time was an area near Ayvacık, a town in Çanakkale province, southwest of Istanbul. The strong tremors were felt in the immediate vicinity of Çanakkale and as far away as Istanbul. No casualties were reported, but nearly 100 buildings, including houses, stables, two mosques and a school, were damaged in the earthquake in 10 villages near the epicenter. The earthquake sent residents of Ayvacık to the streets and was followed with 46 aftershocks of lesser magnitude. Schools were closed yesterday in the town, while residents of damaged villages spent the night on the street, fearing aftershocks.
The earthquake followed Tuesday's 3.9-magnitude tremor in Biga, another town in Çanakkale, and brought back memories of a 5.3-magnitude earthquake in Ayvacık two years ago, also in February. That quake caused more damage, destroying dozens of houses in villages near the epicenter.
Still, there is no reason to panic according to experts. Speaking to A Haber TV, professor Ahmet Ercan said such small quakes were relieving "tension" accumulated below the surface, and they expected more and "in a higher magnitude" in the Marmara region, which includes Çanakkale and Istanbul. Associate professor Oğuz Gündoğdu agrees and says "a big one" is not predicted after Wednesday's tremors, adding that "small cracks" will tend to happen along the fault line.
Turkey is among the world's most seismically active countries as it is situated on a number of active fault lines. In the most recent earthquake-related disaster, more than 600 people died in October 2011 in the eastern province of Van after a 7.2 magnitude quake and powerful aftershocks. The most potentially devastating fault line in Turkey is the Northern Anatolia Fault (NAF), where the Anatolian and Eurasian plates meet.
Experts predict that a big quake will hit Istanbul in the near future and warn that it might cause more destruction than the 1999 earthquake that killed thousands of people in Kocaeli, Istanbul and other western provinces.