Turkey-Syria Earthquake Overview: What Does This Mean for Portland and the “Big One”?

Maryam Luqman (she/her), Staff Writer

In the early morning of February 6, horrors struck Turkey and Syria. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook the neighboring countries, killing and injuring thousands. The current death toll is over 46,000, but it continues to rise every day. 

The last major earthquake to hit Turkey was in 1999 in Izmit, also with a magnitude of 7.8. Unfortunately, the current earthquake quickly surpassed the past death toll, which was over 1,000.

The powerful earthquake collapsed thousands of buildings with poor infrastructure, crushing people underneath. Rescue teams have been working all day to save possible survivors who have been trapped under rubble for over 200 hours.

Due to the cold weather conditions, rescue efforts became harder, endangering survivors. An estimated number of 500,000 survivors have now been displaced onto the streets.

Syrians living in the cities of Hama, Aleppo, Latakia and Tartus have mainly been affected by the earthquake. Because of the civil war that has been going on in Syria since March 2011, this earthquake is yet another terrible crisis to hit the country. The civil war has claimed the lives of over 300,000 people and the earthquake has killed over 900, although this number is very skewed since Syria is not keeping count.

The destruction caused by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria is too much for paramedics and firefighters to handle. Hospitals are crowded with around 108,000 injured people, unable to take in any more. 

As of Monday, February 20, most rescue efforts have stopped due to the unlikely chance of there being any survivors. According to Turkey’s disaster agency, the provinces of Kahramanmaras and Hatay will continue their rescue efforts.

Two weeks after the devastating earthquake, a 6.3 magnitude aftershock earthquake hit southern Turkey. Only around eight people have been reported injured. As more of the aftermath starts to unfold, the World Health Organization suggests that 23 million people will be impacted by the earthquake.

Earthquakes can happen anywhere in the world, but there are specific areas where they are more common and deadlier. Often they will occur along plate boundaries and fault lines.

 One of those areas is the Pacific Northwest, which is along the Pacific Ring of Fire. The Ring spans the rim of the Pacific Ocean. Countries within the Ring of Fire, such as the USA, Japan, Indonesia and Mexico, are extremely susceptible to volcanic eruptions and seismic activity. 

In Oregon, we have been long overdue for the “Big One.” This is an estimated 9.0 earthquake and an over 100 ft. tsunami. The “Big One” is estimated to happen within the next 50 years.

This disaster will be caused by the Cascadia subduction zone, a 600-700 mile fault under the ocean floor that runs from Northern California to Vancouver, British Columbia. The subduction zone is caused by the Juan de Fuca plate subducting under the North American plate. The stress that is built up, and continues to build up, will soon cause a “megathrust” resulting in a devastating earthquake and in coastal regions, a tsunami.

Portland is known for not being prepared for the “Big One”. There is no exact time of year or day on which the earthquake will hit. The conditions of the major earthquake will change depending on the weather and time of day it occurs.

An earthquake in the early morning, like the recent one in Turkey and Syria, can cause up to 10,400 casualties and more than 600,000 collapsed buildings. But an earthquake in the afternoon would be a lot deadlier. Around 27,000 casualties will occur, producing around 13 million tons of debris.

One of the biggest reasons Portland is not prepared for such a catastrophic event is due to structures not being built for severe seismic activity.

Many of the buildings, such as schools and houses, aren’t built to withstand such a powerful earthquake. Around 100,00 wood-framed homes need to be retrofitted for seismic activity and over 1,000 structures are built with unreinforced brick. When the “Big One” hits, an estimated 85,000 people will become displaced for months.

The bridges along the Willamette river will collapse too. One of the most notable is the Burnside Bridge, which over 40,000 vehicles cross over every day. The bridge is designated as an emergency seismic lifeline route, but when the quake hits, the bridge will fully collapse due to weak, unstable soil. The bridge will fully block the Willamette and major roads, making emergency support even harder to receive.

So what can be done currently and in the future to help minimize the impact of the “Big One?” The Oregon Department of Emergency Management urges Oregonians to “Be Informed, Have a Plan, Make a Kit.” OEM needs people to have emergency plans and kits for when the earthquake hits.

Having an emergency plan for everyone in a household ensures proper communication, and an emergency kit will keep the basic necessities for a potential evacuation. These are crucial for surviving the “Big One.”

To help the people of Turkey and Syria:


For more information on earthquake/disaster preparedness: https://www.oregon.gov/oem/hazardsprep/Pages/Individual-Preparedness.aspx