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Here we go again

The first signs are that some earthquake disaster relief lessons have been learned.

Van earthquake
In the last three hours, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the eastern Turkish province of Van. The first images from towns in the area show plenty of destruction: buildings in rubble, parked cars crushed under falling debris, residents shifting bricks and mortar to reach those trapped beneath. There are reports of student housing collapsed in the town of Erciş.

To most Turks, these images – and Turkish television’s coverage – are chillingly familiar. Communications are severely disrupted by the sheer number of trying to contact loved ones, which makes it difficult to build a picture of the damage. No fatalities are yet confirmed but lives will have certainly be lost: shoddy construction techniques will have ensured that. It feels exactly like that fateful night of Tuesday 17 August 1999. At least 20 thousand people died in that earthquake.

But there are differences between then and now. The Turkish Red Crescent’s response has been swift, with thousands of tents and supplies of drinking water despatched immediately to Van. Appeals have been launched through the media for local businessmen with diggers and other heavy machinery to come forward, and for ordinary citizens to keep the roads clear by not driving themselves to the earthquake zone to see if they can help. This “disaster tourism” was a major obstacle to relief efforts after the 17 August quake struck.

Turkish building methods, once again, have a lot to answer for, but at least disaster-relief lessons appear to be learnt.

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