Natural Disasters in Turkey: Catastrophes of the Past and Risks of the Future

Turkey is considered to be a very popular tourist destination and therefore, if you are planning a holiday in Antalya or Istanbul, you should know in advance about the possible dangers that you will encounter. These dangers include natural disasters and catastrophes. A natural disaster is a disaster that causes urban destruction and loss of life as a result of an extreme natural phenomenon.

Climate characteristics of Turkey

Turkey lies in the subtropical and Mediterranean maritime climate zones. It has mild winters and very hot summers. Negative natural factors that could cause a disaster include:

  1. A long sea coast where there is a risk of tsunamis, floods, storms.
  2. The mountainous terrain that occupies all of central Turkey. In the mountains, there is always the possibility of landslides, mudslides, avalanches.
  3. Seismic activity. The country is in a zone of high seismic activity and earthquakes are not uncommon here.
  4. The climate is arid and very hot. Can cause forest fires.
  5. Large amount of rainfall. Can cause flooding on the fast mountain rivers.
  6. Sandstorms. These natural disasters used to occur only in the southern provinces of the country, but in recent years have started to hit central Turkey as well.

The importance of learning about the history of natural disasters

A country’s history of natural disasters is important information to know before you travel. This will help you choose the safest place in the country to travel or live where the likelihood of natural disasters is very low and to take a closer look at your surroundings. For example, if you don’t want to encounter an earthquake, it’s best to avoid cities that are in active fault zones.

In this article, you will learn the chronology of natural disasters which occurred in Turkey in the past.


Землетрясение 2023 год

Turkey lies at the junction of three plates: the Eurasian, African and Arabian plates. The plates are in constant motion, and their interaction leads to major earthquakes and disasters. History has recorded numerous destructive earthquakes that have occurred in the past.

115 AD, Antioch

An earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.7 struck northern Syria, but also affected southeastern Turkey. The strong tremors were followed by a tsunami and as a result several towns were destroyed, killing about 250,000 inhabitants.

526 AD, Antioch

An earthquake of similar magnitude and number of victims struck the region four centuries later. The magnitude of the quake was estimated at 7. The aftershocks were exacerbated by a fire that engulfed several towns.

14 May 1269, Cilicia

The earthquake with magnitude 7 occurred on the night of May 14 in the south-east of Turkey. According to different sources the number of dead in the catastrophe ranged from 8 to 60 thousand people.

10 July 1688, Smyrna

At noon on July 10, a strong earthquake with a magnitude of about 7 shook the city of Izmir, located on the shores of the Aegean Sea in western Turkey. No tsunami was reported, but the death toll exceeded 8,000.

2 June 1859, Erzurum

The catastrophe started at 10 a.m. and took the residents of Erzurum city in northeast Turkey by surprise. The magnitude of the tremors was 6.1 and the death toll exceeded 15,000.

26 December 1939, Erzincan

Strong tremors of magnitude 7.8 shook the province of Erzincan in northeastern Turkey. It caused a fault in the earth’s crust more than 3 metres wide and caused numerous casualties among the population. More than 32,000 people died as a result.

17 August 1999, Izmit

A strong earthquake with a magnitude of about 7.6 occurred late at night near the town of Izmit in western Turkey. Its aftershocks were felt in neighbouring Istanbul and caused severe destruction there. It also caused a tsunami in the Sea of Marmara. As a result, 18,000 people were killed.

6 February 2023. Gaziantep

One of the strongest and most destructive earthquakes happened very recently and affected the southeastern parts of Turkey, as well as neighbouring Syria. The epicentre had a magnitude of 7.8, which resulted in the total destruction of many buildings and thousands of people trapped under the rubble. Dozens of countries were involved in the rescue operation, but the death toll was still huge. The earthquake killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey. The earthquake caused several major faults in the earth’s crust, and the Arabian Plate shifted 3 metres south-west. 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 associated with heavy rainfall, which peaks in the autumn and winter months. In 2023, for example, the provinces of the south of the country were hit by severe floods, with even Antalya threatened by flooding.

In the mountainous parts of the country, the peak of the flooding season is during the spring months, when there is a lot of snowmelt.

One of the worst floods in history occurred in the second decade of August 2021. At that time, heavy rains and resulting floods affected the entire Black Sea coast, especially the provinces of Sinop, Samsun, Bartın and Kastonomu. Rivers burst their banks and washed away structures, buildings and towns. Residents escaped from the water on the roofs of their houses. The flooding took the lives of 81 people.


No major tsunami has been seen in the area around Turkey in recent centuries. Even after the catastrophic earthquake of 2023, tsunami waves did not exceed a couple of metres. The strongest tsunami in Turkish history was recorded in the Sea of Marmara after the 1999 earthquake. The waves then reached a height of 2.5 metres.

However, there have been larger cataclysmic events in the past with huge tsunamis. Following the explosion of the volcano Santorin in the 16th century BC, waves more than a hundred metres high could hit the Turkish coastline. In 1650, a much weaker eruption on the same volcano generated a tsunami of 35 metres.


Последствия урагана

Unfortunately, holidays in Turkey can also be ruined by hurricanes. The hurricane season begins in November and lasts for most of the winter. During this time, violent storms and winds shake the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts, even affecting central Turkey.

In 2019, for example, the resort city of Antalya was hit by a major hurricane. Strong winds tore down the roofs of houses and uprooted trees. Wind speeds reached 130 km/hour. Two people were killed by the storm.

On November 29, 2021, the strongest hurricane already hit Istanbul. As a result, the roofs of 30 houses were torn off, 200 trees were broken, dozens of cars were damaged, and ship traffic through the Bosporus was temporarily halted. The wind speed also reached 130 km/hour.

Volcano eruption

Спящий вулкан Хасан

There are currently no active volcanoes in Turkey. But a potential eruption hazard remains. For example, there are still steam and gas emissions in the areas of Erciyes and Mount Hasan.

The volcanoes in the Aegean Sea on the islands belonging to Greece are also a hazard. The most dangerous of the region’s active volcanoes is considered to be Santorin on the island of Thira. It was its eruption in the 16th century BC that destroyed Minoan civilization and may have been the prototype of the legend of Atlantis.

During Santorin’s eruption, the caldera collapsed, triggering a tsunami. Waves up to 100 metres high slammed the shores of the islands and the mainland. It is not difficult to imagine the damage such waves could cause nowadays.

Forest fires

Лесные пожары

Forest fires in Turkey have only recently become a real scourge. In recent years, their severity and area have increased manifold. The fires usually start at the end of July in the forest areas of the south of the country and gradually spread to the west and north, covering more and more territory. The provinces of Antalya, Adana, Mugla, Mersin and Osmaniye are particularly affected by forest fires.

Authorities are trying to control the spread of the fires by bringing in many pieces of special equipment to extinguish them. But the fires are still burning until mid-autumn. The 2021 fires were the worst this century, killing 10 people and destroying several small settlements.


Песчаная буря

Every spring, the winds from Egypt carry tons of sand towards Turkey. If these clouds reach the Turkish coast, a sandstorm begins. This reduces visibility and makes it unpleasant and even dangerous to be outdoors. The worst affected are those with respiratory problems.

The province of Antalya, the centre of tourism in the country, is the most affected. But sometimes storms even reach the central provinces and can attack Ankara.


The biggest threat for tourists in Turkey are possible earthquakes. They are the ones to be feared in the first place. Earthquakes are not seasonal and are difficult to predict in advance. Their suddenness is the danger.

There is also the potential danger of floods and storms, which peak in the autumn-winter season. In summer, there is a small danger of being in the middle of a forest fire, but the threat of a tsunami or volcanic eruption is very slight for Turkey.

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