Turkey: Post-Earthquake Lessons – OpEd


We are all shocked by the massive earthquake disasters that occurred one after the other on February 6, 2023, first with a quake of 7.7 on the Richter scale in Pazarcık Kahramanmaraş and then a 7.4 in Elbistan, Turkey. We have been watching the search and rescue efforts on TV for the last ten days. The number of deaths is now over 43,000, the exact number of those who were under the rubble is not yet clear, experts are making very high loss estimates.

The images conveyed by the street cameras that made on-site environmental observations are deplorable. Everyone has relatives in the earthquake zone of Maraş, Hatay, Adıyaman and Antep. The five-story house of one of our acquaintances collapsed after the earthquake, no one escaped. A workplace on the lower ground floor cut the base floor columns to provide ample space. The weakened support situation, called “soft floor”, was formed and it was not enough to carry the upper floors of the apartment. The apartment on Gaziantep Zübeyde Hanım street, whose previous photos are beautiful, no longer exists. Debris removal work continues. The adjacent apartments remained unharmed, but entry to those is not allowed as a precautionary measure.

The buildings in our housing complex were built using the tunnel formwork. The tunnel formwork system can easily tolerate vertical and especially horizontal earthquake loads, the high-rise buildings of public TOKİ buildings are made with a tunnel formwork system. Ankara Bilkent Emlakbank, Yaşamkent, İncek, Turkuvaz Toki, İstanbul Ataşehir Emlakbank houses were built with the tunnel formwork system and they were all tested in the 1999 Yalova Gölcük earthquake earlier, they are all intact and safe. It is difficult to know in advance what will happen in the upcoming big Istanbul earthquake.

For earthquake prevention, it is necessary to put Japanese-style seismic isolators on the building foundation columns, to avoid soft floors, comply with the rules and regulations of earthquake conditions, use the appropriate steel and concrete in the building, make serious static calculations, and avoid risky designs. These are not enough. There are also post-construction measures.

There was a case of a Zümrüt apartment building in Konya in 2004. Allegedly, the shopkeeper selling textile products at the base floor of the 11-floor apartment had cut the main carrier column to make room for his shop, as a result of which the building collapsed abruptly, and 92 residents of the apartment collapsed and lost their lives tragically. The shop owner did not consult anywhere while making the changes, did not report it, a d the residents of the apartment did not even know about the situation, after the column was cut, the smell of burning was felt throughout the apartment for days – it was stated that it was caused by the friction created by the irons – it was thought that the smell was caused by the heating system, a master was brought and the heating installation was checked, but the smell was not found. The reason was not understood until the apartment collapsed. It was a very sad event.

An apartment is being sold in a multistory block. The new flat owner who bought the house starts the demolition and renovation activities inside without informing anyone and without getting permission. The work takes days. Nearby flats remain in dust and filth. What is going on inside, nobody knows, there is no inside control. All day there is the knocking down of walls, the electric drill making terrible noise. Due to heavy and careless handling, the elevator makes noise and then breaks down, the elevator repair is mostly paid by the common budget, not by the floor owner who caused this work. This demolition and renovation activity continues in the apartment on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. The situation is not within the scope of the security personnel responsibility. If the building manager is not in the building, there is no one to complain to.

There are elderly people who can’t leave their homes, there are retirees, sleeping babies, students who study, there are software developers working from their home-offices in the building. What can you do as a victim neighbor in this situation? You may frown when you see the new flat owner. You slam the door in their face. You knock on his door and warn the workers, but the workers often don’t listen to you. They get away with the noise they make for days and the filth. Your nerves are broken.

The same situation may arise at a construction site near your summer house at the resort, and your whole summer vacation may pass in noise and filth. Your independent house neighbor in the suburb can do all these renovations. It is not the duty of the local police to issue a warning in such a situation. Whereas in Germany, it is the duty of the police to warn in such cases. During the repair, we personally saw the incident of the next door neighbor, where the district police on duty came to their door, who received complaints because they were making too much noise while they were renovating.

In another practice I have seen in Istanbul, the new floor owner who makes renovations signs a contract with the management on the order and duration of the work. He declares that he will work only between 10:00 and 17:00 on working days as soon as possible, with relatively little pollution, making less noise, and hangs this on the lower entrance door with a written notice. Security has this confirmation signed and checked by the renovator.

Taking the task out of the situation, your author pondered how the contract for the interior renovation work plan should be, as if he was preparing a thermal power plant EIA regulation. Below I present the first draft rules for your information, and comments,

Before the renovation of the apartment, the new flat owner will get permission from the management and give a written renewal plan. This period cannot exceed 4 weeks. The flat owner is responsible for all kinds of damages.

Prior to renovation of the apartment, he will make a reasonable deposit to the management for compensation. According to the approval or objection of the apartment floor neighbors and the upstairs neighbor, this money will be paid to the minor injuries as compensation.

The reasonable time for all dismantling and scrap transportation activities within the flat is a maximum of 2- working days.

Reasonable time for new electrical wiring, hot and cold water pipe removal-renewal-installation is 2 working days.

The reasonable time for whitewash, paint, floor covering change is maximum 5-working days,

Reasonable time for bathroom dismantling, remodeling, kitchen remodeling is 2- working days.

The reasonable time for heat insulating double glass windows dismantling, renovation, is a maximum of 2 working days.

During the dismantling and transportation of new materials, no personnel will be on the elevator, and there will be personnel on the lower and upper floors for shipping and receiving.

In case of elevator breakdown, the repair costs will be deducted from the deposit, if the cost is more than the deposit, the excess amount will be compensated separately,

There will be absolutely no work in the apartment on Sundays and public holidays.

Working hours will be between 10:00-17:00 on working days.

The apartment door will be kept closed during the indoor work. Dust, noise and dirt going to the entrance hall and to the common floor neighbors will be prevented.

At the end of the renovation work, a loss and damage determination will be made, a penalty fee will be deducted from the deposit for each extra delayed week worked, in addition, elevator maintenance, up and down neighbor damage will be paid, and the deducted money will be transferred to the building management general budget. Any remaining money will be refunded.

We think that such similar draft contracts would be very accurate in terms of avoiding problems in future neighborhood relations by making noise, making a mess, gaining the dislike of the neighbors before they moved to their new house. These are just like getting an EIA report before the construction of thermal power plants, not harming the environment while building a power plant, asking local people for fossil fuel thermal power plants, HEPP, wind, solar, highway and getting their approval, are issues that civilized societies are sensitive to. The problem is pathological and its solution is not immediately possible even in the short term, even in the medium term, because in our geography the public institutions themselves, the local municipalities that give approval, and the irresponsible and ignorant contractors that cause the greatest discomfort in us, and the tender is given to the disrespectful people. However, it is still necessary to think about the subject and give serious thought.

Interior renovation are important and serious works that should not be left to the discretion of the new neighbor, that is, to the discretion of the renovation contractor. It is best to take this matter seriously from the very beginning, make a serious work schedule, and resolve it with monetary sanctions. Nature does not forgive. 

We wish God’s mercy on our citizens who lost their lives in the earthquake,  and our condolences to their relatives, a speedy recovery to our wounded.

Haluk Direskeneli

Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP, Entergy), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

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