Devastating earthquakes

Pexels Ahmed Akacha 7132575
Earthquake damage to buildings. Photo courtesy of Ahmed Akacha.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families of the devastating earthquake near the Turkey-Syria border. While I cannot quantify the magnitude of suffering occurring currently at the epicenter of the Turkish-Syrian border, I certainly can relate. You see, in Trinidad and Tobago, we have had our fair share of earthquakes to the point where I can instantaneously feel the slightest movement of a building shake at the balls of my feet. When this happens, I am always ready for flight, because I know what might happen next,

As kids growing up in Trinidad, we would get random earthquakes, usually in the summertime. I remember on one occasion that walls became living breathing giant monsters. I mean the green of the wall moved so humanly that I had nightmares for years.  The green walls were moving in closer and closer and every time I tried to run, I felt dizzy and my feet collapsed below my body. I fought hard to get back up, but it was like someone was spinning me around and then pushing me forward, knowing fully well I would be unable to follow a straight line through the door to safety. I remembered the shakings lasting for almost 60 seconds, but those were the longest 60 seconds in the world. Just think of being trapped in a fortress and although the doors are wide open there is no room for escape. The powerlessness of the thought is devastating and agonizing enough.

The destructive effects of earthquakes are from falling buildings, fires, and fault rupture. The violent shaking of the ground produces the greatest property losses and personal injuries. The damage caused by earthquakes is from ground shaking, ground rupture, landslides, tsunamis, and liquefaction. Earthquake damage from fires is the most important secondary effect.

Earthquake destruction begins with the earth’s violent shaking that can rupture the earth, triggering massive landslides and turning the surface of the earth to liquid. Although we don’t usually see much of the latter, the shaking caused by major earthquakes can be felt hundreds of miles away, much like the recent earthquake in Turkey, Syria and other parts of the world. During ground shaking, the vibration triggers other environmental hazards. Most earthquake damage results from the seismic waves passing beneath buildings, roads, and other structures. It can be caused by vertical or horizontal movement on either side of a ruptured fault. Ground displacement, which can affect large land areas, can produce severe damage to structures, roads, railways and pipelines causing large cracks and the collapse of a paved road. This leads to injuries, loss of life, and often impedes people from getting to loved ones trapped under the rubble and further delaying aid workers from rescuing survivors.

The potential cost of earthquakes seems to be growing each year because of increasing urban development in seismically active areas and the vulnerability of older buildings, which may not have been built or upgraded to current building codes. Apart from the structural damage, the human cost causes considerable destruction and tremendous suffering and long-run economic impact.

According to anecdotal evidence, earthquakes are found to have a negative overall impact on GDP per capita even eight years after an exposure. Cities and towns lose massive chunks of its population, leaving children orphaned, spouses widowed and communities broken. Then comes the spread of diseases from contaminated food and water left by the human carcasses and trapped decomposing bodies in the streets waiting for medical teams and surviving relatives to identify them. The grief continues as loved ones cling to hope as rescuers search for the missing.   In addition to the human cost, there is widespread food scarcity, loss of education and jobs in the months and years after the earthquake. The long-term effects are eerie and very apocalyptic.

One can never understand the inner fear and immense sadness unless experiencing it himself. Earthquakes remain the most terrifying phenomenon on earth and show the fragility of humans against nature. Let’s stand in solidarity with those affected by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria as we send our prayers and support for the survivors and their families.

Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian educator residing in New York.

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