Inhabitants of earthquake city Izmit look to the future

ISTANBUL – Ten years after the devastating earth quake that hit the Turkish city of Izmit and surrounding area, the quake is hardly a subject of conversation any more. The people who were made homeless at the time have a roof over their heads again, the city is standing more solidly on its foundations than ever before, and the people of Izmit are looking ahead to the future. The big difference with before the disaster is that everybody is conscious of the possibility that an earthquake might hit the region again, and its people now protect themselves better than ever.

The earthquake, with a strength of 7.6 on the Richter scale, hit the provinces of Kocaeli and Sakarya, east of Istanbul, on 17 August 1999. In cities like Izmit, Adapazari and Yalova more then 17,000 people died and almost 45,000 were injured.
In many countries, including the Netherlands, fund-raising began immediately and large amounts were donated to help with aid projects. According to Jelle Verheij, who coordinated the aid from NGO Cordaid at the time and is still living in the area, the money was used well. ‘Even long lasting bonds were built between cities in this region and cities in Holland. Some projects ran for years, like the project of a social working place in Amsterdam for people who became handicapped by the earthquake.’

The buildings that were built with money from the Turkish authorities coupled with the aid money, are more solid than ever: anybody laying the foundations of a building takes the regulations on prevention of earthquake damage seriously. Many new houses are built on hills, since rocks offer the most solid ground. Since the earthquake, municipalities have developed emergency plans and volunteer organisations have been established everywhere to help in case of another event.

But the earthquake is hardly talked about these days, say both Jelle Verheij and Gönül Efe, journalist at the regional newspaper in Kocaeli. Efe: ‘Ninety percent of all problems are solved.’ Verheij: ‘In the first two years after the disaster, every conversation was about the earthquake, but after that it was all over. For some people, life after the disaster started anew, like a man I talked to who lost his whole family but who remarried and became a father again. He didn’t talk about his loss any more. The dead and the memories of the disaster alike seem to be buried.’
Several remembrance ceremonies are planned for Monday throughout the region.

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