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Published: 09:54, February 07, 2023 | Updated: 18:32, February 07, 2023
Why was the Türkiye-Syria earthquake so bad?
By Reuters
Published:09:54, February 07, 2023 Updated:18:32, February 07, 2023 By Reuters

Rescue workers and volunteers pull out a survivor from the rubble in Diyarbakir, Türkiye on Feb 6, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

LONDON — The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Türkiye and Syria on Monday is likely to be one of the deadliest this decade, seismologists said, with a more than 100 km rupture between the Anatolian and Arabian plates.

Here is what scientists said happened beneath the earth's surface and what to expect in the aftermath:

The Türkiye-Syria earthquake released 250 times as much energy

Where did the earthquake originate?

The epicenter was about 26 km east of the Turkish city of Nurdagi at a depth of about 18 km on the East Anatolian Fault. The quake radiated towards the northeast, bringing devastation to central Türkiye and Syria.

READ MORE: More than 1,700 dead as major quake hits Türkiye, Syria

During the 20th century, the East Anatolian Fault yielded little major seismic activity. "If we were going simply by (major) earthquakes that were recorded by seismometers, it would look more or less blank," said Roger Musson, an honorary research associate at the British Geological Survey.

Rescuers search for victims and survivors amidst the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, Türkiye, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's southeast on Feb 7, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

Only three earthquakes have registered above 6.0 on the Richter Scale since 1970 in the area, according to the US Geological Survey. But in 1822, a 7.0 quake hit the region, killing an estimated 20,000 people.

How bad was this earthquake?

On average, there are fewer than 20 quakes over 7.0 magnitude in any year, making Monday's event severe.

Compared with the 6.2 earthquake that hit central Italy in 2016 and killed some 300 people, the Türkiye-Syria earthquake released 250 times as much energy, according to Joanna Faure Walker, head of the University College London Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction.

People warm themselves around a bonfire in the rubble in Kahramanmaras, Türkiye, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's southeast on Feb 7, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

Only two of the deadliest earthquakes from 2013 to 2022 were of the same magnitude as Monday's quake.

Why was it so severe?

The East Anatolian Fault is a strike-slip fault.

In those, solid rock plates are pushing up against each other across a vertical fault line, building stress until one finally slips in a horizontal motion, releasing a tremendous amount of strain that can trigger an earthquake.

The San Andreas Fault in California is perhaps the world's most famous strike-slip fault, with scientists warning that a catastrophic quake is long overdue.

Police officer Zekeriya Yildiz hugs his daughter after they saved her from the rubble in Hatay on Feb 6, 2023, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's south-east. (PHOTO / AFP)

The initial rupture for the Türkiye-Syria earthquake kicked off at a relatively shallow depth.

"The shaking at the ground surface will have been more severe than for a deeper earthquake of the same magnitude at source," David Rothery, a planetary geoscientist at the Open University in Britain, said.

What kind of aftershocks can be expected?

Eleven minutes after the initial quake, the region was hit by a 6.7-magnitude aftershock. A 7.5-magnitude quake came hours later, followed by another 6.0 spasm in the afternoon.

Rescuers search for victims and survivors amidst the rubble of a building that collapsed in Adana on Feb 6, 2023, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's south-east. (PHOTO / AFP)

"What we are seeing now is the activity is spreading to neighbouring faults," said Musson. "We expect seismicity to continue for a while."

READ MORE: Xi extends condolences to Erdogan, Bashar over earthquake

After the deadly 1822 event, aftershocks carried on into the following year.

What might the final death toll be?

Earthquakes of similar magnitudes in populated areas have killed thousands of people. Nepal's 7.8-magnitude earthquake in 2015 claimed nearly 9,000 lives.

Rescue workers and volunteers conduct search and rescue operations in the rubble of a collapsed building, in Diyarbakir on Feb 6, 2023, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's south-east. (PHOTO / AFP)

"It's not going to be good," said Musson. "It will be in the thousands, and could be in the tens of thousands."

Cold winter weather, he added, means that people trapped under rubble have less chance at survival.

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