Historic Earthquakes

1971 May 12 06:25:13 UTC
Magnitude 6.3
1971 May 22 16:43:58 UTC
Magnitude 6.9

Two earthquakes in May 1971 added another chapter to Turkey's long history of destructive tremors. They struck widely separated areas of mountainous Turkey, but the damage they caused was all to familiar to citizens of that earthquake-plagued region.

As the sun dimmed over the great Anatolian region of eastern Turkey May 22, 1971, a destructive earthquake struck near the quiet city of Bingol. It was about one second before 6:44 p.m. local time (16:43:58 UTC) when the magnitude 6.9 tremor broke the quiet of the evening, leaving that city and much of the surrounding area in rubble.

The May 22 event was only slightly larger that the 1971 California earthquake that took a toll of 65 lives and possibly a billion dollars in damage. It centered about 410 miles southeast of Ankara near Bingol, a city of about 19,000 population. Some 15,000 of its population are now homeless, a thousand or more are dead, and 90 percent of its structures lay destroyed, an all too frequent occurrence in Turkey's high Anatolian Plateau.

Rescue efforts at Bingol were hampered by heavy rain. Survivors told harrowing accounts of entire families still covered by ruins. Days later, Bingol troops and volunteers continued to search through the broken shells of homes for victims.

Relief efforts began shortly after the earthquake. The Turkish Red Crescent furnished tents, hospitals, mobile kitchens, blankets, and other necessities to the survivors. But the majority of the Red Crescent stocks were depleted in relief operations in western Turkey's Burdur area where a damaging shock struck ten days earlier. Other governments were asked for assistance.

The May 12 shock centered in the Burdur area of western Turkey, about 220 miles southwest of Ankara. Rated magnitude 6.3 on the Richter scale, the tremor killed 100 people and damaged thousands of buildings. It struck at 8:25 a.m. local time, after the men had gone to the fields to work. Most of the shock's victims were women and children.

Several aftershocks, some quite strong, battered both earthquake regions in the days following the main tremors. Additional damage was sustained, but few descriptive reports have been received from Turkish officials.

Each year since 1966 Turkey has experienced a damaging earthquake. The May 22 event occurred at the extreme eastern end of the Anatolian Fault system, not far from Varto, where a magnitude 7.1 shock in 1966 resulted in 2,529 deaths.

In 1967 and 1968, strong shocks in northern Turkey claimed 124 lives and destroyed over 3,000 structures.

A slighter shock in western Turkey in 1969 claimed 11 lives, and exactly one year later a magnitude 6.9 event destroyed the town of Gediz and claimed over 1,000 lives.

Between 1909 and 1971, 32 earthquakes of magnitude 6 or higher occurred in the Anatolian Fault zone, which covers an east to west length of about 500 miles in northern Turkey. Earthquakes will continue to take their toll in Turkey, because it lies in the active Alpide seismic zone which covers much of western Europe. A large part of earthquake fatalities throughout history have occurred in the Alpide belt. They will continue to take their annual toll until more stringent codes are adopted governing construction of homes, offices, and government buildings.

Abridged from Earthquake Information Bulletin, July - August 1971, Volume 3, Number 4.