Natural Disasters in Turkey: Catastrophes of the Past and Risks of the Future
Turkey is considered a very popular tourist destination. Therefore, if you are planning a holiday in Antalya or Istanbul, you should know in advance about the possible dangers you may encounter. These dangers include natural disasters and catastrophes. A natural disaster is an event that results in urban destruction and loss of life due to an extreme natural phenomenon.
Climate Characteristics of Turkey
Turkey lies in the subtropical and Mediterranean maritime climate zones. It experiences mild winters and very hot summers. Negative natural factors that could lead to disasters include:
- A long sea coast, where there is a risk of tsunamis, floods, and storms.
- Mountainous terrain that covers the central part of Turkey, where landslides, mudslides, and avalanches are possible.
- Seismic activity: The country is in a zone of high seismic activity, and earthquakes are not uncommon.
- The arid and very hot climate can lead to forest fires.
- Large amounts of rainfall can result in flooding in the fast mountain rivers.
- Sandstorms: While these natural disasters used to occur mainly in the southern provinces, they have recently started affecting central Turkey as well.
The Importance of Learning about the History of Natural Disasters:
Knowing a country’s history of natural disasters is crucial information before you travel. It can help you choose a safe place in the country with a low likelihood of natural disasters and allow you to be more aware of your surroundings. For instance, if you want to avoid encountering an earthquake, it’s best to avoid cities in active fault zones.
In this article, you will learn about the chronology of natural disasters that have occurred in Turkey in the past.
Turkey lies at the junction of three tectonic plates: the Eurasian, African, and Arabian plates. These plates are in constant motion, and their interactions often result in significant earthquakes and disasters. History has documented numerous destructive earthquakes that have occurred in the past.
115 AD, Antioch
In 115 AD, an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.7 struck northern Syria but also affected southeastern Turkey. The powerful tremors were followed by a tsunami, leading to the destruction of several towns and the loss of approximately 250,000 lives.
526 AD, Antioch
Four centuries later, a similar earthquake in terms of magnitude and casualties struck the region in 526 AD. The quake was estimated to have a magnitude of 7, and aftershocks were further compounded by a fire that engulfed several towns.
May 14, 1269, Cilicia
On the night of May 14, 1269, a magnitude 7 earthquake struck the southeast of Turkey in Cilicia. Depending on different sources, the death toll from this catastrophe ranged from 8,000 to 60,000 people.
July 10, 1688, Smyrna
At noon on July 10, 1688, a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of approximately 7 shook Izmir, a city located on the shores of the Aegean Sea in western Turkey. While no tsunami was reported, the earthquake claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people.
June 2, 1859, Erzurum
At 10 a.m. on June 2, 1859, a catastrophic event took the residents of Erzurum city in northeast Turkey by surprise. The earthquake had a magnitude of 6.1, and the death toll exceeded 15,000.
December 26, 1939, Erzincan
Strong tremors with a magnitude of 7.8 shook the province of Erzincan in northeastern Turkey on December 26, 1939. These tremors caused a fault in the Earth’s crust more than 3 meters wide and resulted in numerous casualties among the population, with over 32,000 people losing their lives.
August 17, 1999, Izmit
Late at night on August 17, 1999, a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of around 7.6 occurred near the town of Izmit in western Turkey. Its aftershocks were felt in the neighbouring city of Istanbul and caused extensive destruction. The earthquake also triggered a tsunami in the Sea of Marmara, leading to the loss of 18,000 lives.
February 6, 2023, Gaziantep
One of the most recent and devastating earthquakes occurred on February 6, 2023, affecting southeastern Turkey and neighbouring Syria. The epicenter had a magnitude of 7.8, resulting in the complete destruction of many buildings and trapping thousands of people under the rubble. Dozens of countries were involved in the rescue operation, but the death toll was still significant, with more than 50,000 people losing their lives. The earthquake caused several major faults in the Earth’s crust, and it shifted the Arabian Plate 3 meters to the southwest. Scientists estimate that the effects of this cataclysm will be felt for several years to come, and the risk of another major earthquake remains very high.
Various parts of Turkey are affected by severe flooding every year. In the coastal provinces of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, floods are typically associated with heavy rainfall, which peaks in the autumn and winter months. In 2023, for example, the southern provinces of the country were hit by severe floods, with even Antalya facing the threat of flooding.
In the mountainous regions of the country, the peak of the flooding season occurs during the spring months, coinciding with significant snowmelt.
One of the most devastating floods in history occurred in the second decade of August 2021. During that time, heavy rains and resulting floods impacted the entire Black Sea coast, especially the provinces of Sinop, Samsun, Bartın, and Kastamonu. Rivers overflowed their banks and swept away structures, buildings, and entire towns. Residents had to escape to the rooftops of their houses to avoid the rising water. The flooding resulted in the tragic loss of 81 lives.
No major tsunami has been observed in the vicinity of Turkey in recent centuries. Even after the catastrophic earthquake of 2023, tsunami waves did not exceed a couple of meters in height. The most powerful tsunami in Turkish history was recorded in the Sea of Marmara following the 1999 earthquake when the waves reached a height of 2.5 meters.
However, in the past, there have been more colossal cataclysmic events with enormous tsunamis. Following the eruption of the Santorini volcano in the 16th century BC, waves exceeding a hundred meters in height could strike the Turkish coastline. In 1650, a less severe eruption of the same volcano generated a tsunami with waves reaching 35 meters in height.
Unfortunately, holidays in Turkey can also be disrupted by hurricanes. The hurricane season begins in November and continues for most of the winter. During this time, violent storms and high winds impact the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts, extending to central Turkey.
For instance, in 2019, the resort city of Antalya experienced a major hurricane. Strong winds tore off the roofs of houses and uprooted trees, with wind speeds reaching 130 km/hour. The storm resulted in the loss of two lives.
On November 29, 2021, the most powerful hurricane to date struck Istanbul. This event led to the roofs of 30 houses being torn off, the damage of 200 trees, harm to dozens of cars, and the temporary suspension of ship traffic through the Bosporus. Wind speeds also reached 130 km/hour.
Currently, there are no active volcanoes in Turkey, but the potential for eruption hazards still exists. For instance, there are ongoing emissions of steam and gas in the areas of Erciyes and Mount Hasan.
The volcanoes located in the Aegean Sea on the islands belonging to Greece also pose a hazard. The most perilous of the active volcanoes in the region is Santorin on the island of Thira. Its eruption in the 16th century BC was responsible for the destruction of the Minoan civilization and may have served as the inspiration for the legend of Atlantis.
During the eruption of Santorin, the caldera collapsed, leading to a tsunami. Waves, reaching heights of up to 100 meters, struck the shores of the islands and the mainland. It is not challenging to envision the substantial damage such waves could inflict in modern times.
Forest fires in Turkey have only recently become a significant concern. In recent years, their intensity and extent have multiplied. The fires typically ignite towards the end of July in the southern forested regions of the country and gradually advance to the west and north, covering increasingly larger areas. The provinces of Antalya, Adana, Mugla, Mersin, and Osmaniye are particularly susceptible to forest fires.
Authorities are making efforts to contain the fires by deploying numerous specialized firefighting equipment. However, the fires often persist until mid-autumn. The fires in 2021 were the most severe this century, resulting in the loss of 10 lives and the destruction of several small communities.
Every spring, winds from Egypt carry tons of sand toward Turkey. If these clouds reach the Turkish coast, a sandstorm begins. This reduces visibility, making it unpleasant and even dangerous to be outdoors, with those with respiratory problems being the worst affected.
The province of Antalya, the center of tourism in the country, is the most affected, but sometimes these storms even reach the central provinces, potentially affecting Ankara.
The most significant threat for tourists in Turkey is the possibility of earthquakes, which should be the primary concern. Earthquakes are not seasonal and are challenging to predict in advance due to their sudden onset.
There is also the potential danger of floods and storms, with their peak occurring in the autumn-winter season. In the summer, there is a minor risk of encountering a forest fire, but the threat of a tsunami or volcanic eruption in Turkey is very low.