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Sunday 23rd October 2011 – Devastating earthquake in the Van province, Turkey


On Sunday 23rd October 2011 (10:41:21 GMT) a devastating earthquake hit the province of Van, in the Eastern Turkey, at about 80km from the border with the Iran. The Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute (KOERI) in Istanbul estimated that the quake had a magnitude Mw = 7.2; the epicentre was located at 20km (Latitude: 38.7578N; Longitude: 43.3602E) in the North-East part of the city of Van. According to the preliminary report by KOERI, it was a shallow earthquake with a depth of about 5km. USGS estimated a different depth for the same event; the superficial earthquake had a depth of 20km.
The Eastern region of Turkey exhibits high seismic hazard; from a seismo-genetic standpoint,  it is characterized by the collision of two tectonic plates: Arabic and Eurasian plates. In the province of Van, the Arabic plate converges towards the Eurasian plate, in the North direction. The mean velocity of the plate movement is 24mm/year. The focal mechanism is oblique-thrust faulting, it complies with the strike-slip mechanisms of the Eastern Anatolian region.
The peak ground acceleration recorded in the epicental region is about 0.6g; the maximum velocity is 50 cm/sec.
The earthquake of Sunday 23rd October caused extensive collapse of RC, masonry and adobe buildings in several municipalities (especially the city of Ercis) and numerous rural areas in the province of Van. According to the Disaster and Emergency Agency of Turkey (AFAD) the total number of buildings severely damaged and/or collapsed exceeds 2200. A preliminary survey carried out in the aftermath of the main seismic shock, showed that the RC structures that experienced severe damage were those with typical deficiencies of low quality structural systems and lack of seismic details. Insufficient percentage of longitudinal and transverse reinforcement bars, lack of effective beam-to-column joint confinement, low-strength concrete and soft storeys were detected in several damaged and/or collapse systems.
The death toll is still not definite; at moment the local authorities are reporting more than 500 deaths.
One of the recent major earthquake that struck Turkey is the Mw = 7.6 Izmit earthquake in 1999. The quake originated from the North-Anatolian fault; it caused about 17000 deaths. In the province of Van, the magnitude 7 earthquake that occurred on the 1992 caused about 4000 deaths.
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