This Is 'the Worst Kind of Earthquake'

Turkey-Syria quake was powerful, shallow, and situated below a densely populated area
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 6, 2023 2:12 PM CST
This Is 'the Worst Kind of Earthquake'
Civil defense workers and security forces search through the wreckage of collapsed buildings in Hama, Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.   (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)

The death toll in Monday's Turkey-Syria earthquake has risen again to about 2,700 in the latest official tally, per CNN, and nobody thinks it will stop rising soon. One reason is the disastrous combination of factors involved:

  • Deadly mix: In short, the quake was powerful (7.8-magnitude), shallow (a depth of 11 miles), and situated under a densely populated region near the border of Turkey and Syria. All of which means it's "the worst kind of earthquake," seismologist Stephen Hicks of the University College London tells Sky News.
  • 2nd large one: Another massive quake of 7.5-magnitude hit the same area nine hours later. Scientists have yet to officially categorize it as an aftershock, though it appears to be so. "We expect aftershocks to continue in the coming days, weeks, and months," says US Geological Survey scientist Alex Hatem tells the AP.

  • The term: The initial earthquake was what's known as a slip-strike quake, meaning it was caused by two tectonic plates sliding past each other horizontally, per the AP. At 7.8-magnitude, this is one of the biggest slip-strike earthquakes ever recorded on land, says Hatem. Newsweek and the BBC have maps of the plates and faults involved in this quake-prone area.
  • Buildings, timing: Despite the area's history of earthquakes, the buildings aren't up to snuff on that front. "The resistant infrastructure is unfortunately patchy in South Turkey and especially Syria," Dr. Carmen Solana of the University of Portsmouth tells the BBC. The timing of around 4am compounded the danger because most people were inside, sleeping.
  • An analogy: That the quake was so powerful and shallow leads to this analogy by seismologist Hicks: "This earthquake actually ruptured along a fault for about 400 kilometers (about 250 miles). So imagine tearing a piece of paper and it tearing for 400 kilometers. That rupture has occurred over about 100 seconds."
(More Turkey-Syria earthquake stories.)

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