Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research logo google logo
navigation bar

The Marmara, Turkey Earthquake of August  17, 1999: Reconnaissance Report

Show all
Hide all


by George C. Lee
Director, Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research

Over the years, MCEER has supported many rapid surveys and reconnaissance visits to areas hit by severe earthquakes. Observations in the field as soon as possible following a major earthquake are one of the important ways in which vital data can be gathered and important lessons learned. In order to realize our vision of "earthquake resilient communities," these often tragic events must be investigated to validate our collective knowledge and to discover new insight into success stories and failures.

Our multidisciplinary team members conduct their reconnaissance visits primarily to support and foster knowledge development within MCEER’s research program. The mission of the research program is to investigate how advanced and emerging technologies can be adapted and implemented to reduce earthquake hazards. Research efforts focus on development and calibration of loss estimation methodologies, damage evaluation, detection and response technologies, and development of retrofit strategies for critical facilities (such as lifelines, buildings and their contents, and bridges). The time period immediately following a destructive earthquake offers a critical window of opportunity to determine more closely the "weak links," reasons for failure or unacceptable performance, and to observe the success stories.

The observations and recommendations made by our team members are presented in this report, for the benefit of people in seismic regions throughout the world. Only by absorbing the technical and institutional lessons from these events, and then further developing our understanding and potential solutions in the laboratory and in our communities, can the potential for future tragedies be reduced.




By Charles Scawthorn
EQE International, Inc.

The August 17, 1999 Mw 7.4 Marmara earthquake is a devastating catastrophe and great human tragedy for the Turkish people. Approximately 17,000 fatalities and 44,000 injuries occurred, with an estimated 20,000 collapsed buildings displacing more than 250,000 people, making it one of the worst natural disasters in recent decades.

The affected region around Izmit Bay is heavily industrialized and accounts for perhaps 10% of Turkey’s GDP. Combined with other economic problems, the earthquake is expected to be a severe burden on the national economy, reducing national GNP by 0.6~1.0 % (World Bank, 1999).

The earthquake should have come as no surprise, since the long history of earthquakes is well-known (Ambraseys and Finkel, 1995), Table 1-1. Additional evidence for this event’s potential was the clear pattern of sequential segmented rupturing of the North Anatolian Fault Zone (NAFZ) as pointed out by Toksöz et al. in 1979 and Stein et al. in 1997, (discussed by Papageorgiou in Section 2).

The approximately 125 km of fault rupture on the North Anatolian Fault Zone is clearly analogous to situations in other parts of the world, most notably with the San Andreas fault in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. The strong ground shaking due to this fault rupture, combined with soft soils around the perimeter of Izmit Bay and other areas (e.g., Adapazari), resulted in significant geotechnical effects and permanent ground deformations (discussed by Mitchell and Holzer in Section 3). These geotechnical effects were consistent with those associated with other recent major earthquakes, and resulted in streets and buildings on the bayshore being submerged 1~2 meters in this event, and Adapazari’s water distribution system being virtually destroyed.

However, the most dramatic damage and greatest contributor to the disaster was the widespread collapse of numerous multi-story reinforced concrete apartment blocks. Almost the only building type in the region is non-ductile reinforced concrete frames with hollow clay tile infill which, combined with soft stories, results in a ‘pancake’ type of collapse (discussed by Bruneau in Section 4). Requirements for proper earthquake-resistive construction exist in the Turkish building code, which is a very modern code. Why weren’t these requirements adhered to? One important factor has been the rapid development of Turkey in general, and particularly the Marmara region. From 1990 to 1997 for example, the province of Kocaeli’s population grew 26%. Rapid development of the Marmara region overwhelmed local government’s ability to monitor construction, and led to unregulated building, resulting in inadequate lateral force systems in buildings.

This lesson is further emphasized by the performance of structures designed and constructed by more centralized organizations with access to modern engineering, such as the transportation systems (discussed by Mander in Section 5), industrial facilities (discussed by Johnson in Section 6) and lifelines (Section 7). In these cases, relatively little damage occurred, and the major motorways, water treatment and transmission systems, gas systems, and national power grid, were all functional within hours of the earthquake. Industrial facility performance was more mixed, with some dramatic damage, such as at the Tüpras refinery (site of a major fire), but many facilities performed very well.

The human dimensions of the August 17 earthquake continued for many days, as Turks and rescuers from around the world struggled to find and save those trapped in the literally thousands of collapsed buildings. This task, which re-played similar efforts seen in Mexico City in 1985, Armenia in 1988 and elsewhere, is simply overwhelming. As Mitchell discusses in Section 8, the organization and technology does not currently exist to perform this task with any real effectiveness, so that prevention of the problem, via effective retrofitting, is the solution. The cost of disasters is further increased by the resources that must be devoted to tent cities and more durable temporary housing, debris removal and other necessary tasks, as discussed by Webb in Section 9. Both sections 8 and 9 also offer excellent insights into the social and political ramifications of such a trauma to the social fabric.

Very interesting in this earthquake was the application of new technologies for rapidly assessing and reacting to the disaster, in near ‘real-time.’ Remote sensing, GPS, GIS and emergency decision support systems offer the promise of efficiently employing available resources in a timely manner, thus in the future, potentially saving those who are currently lost. Eguchi and co-workers in the final chapter discuss current efforts at applying and understanding these technologies, which are an extremely promising area for further research.

In a sense, the August 17 Marmara earthquake was a ‘narrow-banded’ event. That is, considering the entire spectrum of the built environment, the damage resulting from the event, while substantial, was generally within the resources of Turkey to manage and even tolerate, with one exception. The exception was the dismal performance of the reinforced concrete frames, virtually ubiquitous in the region. The collapse of thousands of these buildings transformed this earthquake from a damaging event to a catastrophe. Within the spectrum of the built environment, only this aspect was a ‘spike.’ Design and construction of reinforced concrete frames to withstand strong earthquake motions is possible, and the principles are well understood by Turkish engineers. Unfortunately, the rapid development of the region overtaxed the ability of the society to assure that these principles were followed. The result was inadequate buildings, when there need not have been, and a tragic catastrophe. The ultimate lesson therefore is that building and development is simply not a physical process - governmental institutions and social processes must develop in parallel, to keep up with the physical demands and assure minimum acceptable standards of construction and public safety. The alternative is seen in Figure 1-1, thousands forced to stand by, while victims die in the rubble.



Section 1 Introduction
Charles Scawthorn, EQE International, Inc.
Section 2 Seismology
Apostolos Papageorgiou, Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, University at Buffalo, State University of New York
2.1 Seismological Parameters
2.2 North Anatolian Fault Zone (NAFZ)
2.3 Fault Slip of the 1999 Marmara Earthquake
2.4 Similarities and Differences Between the North Anatolian Fault and the San Andreas Fault
2.5 Strong Motion Recordings
2.6 Conclusion
2.7 References
Section 3 Geotechnical Effects
James Mitchell, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Thomas Holzer, U.S. Geological Survey
3.1 Geological Setting
3.2 Ground Motions and Site Response
3.3 Soil Liquefaction
3.4 Landslides and Subsidence
3.5 Behavior of Building Foundations
3.6 Performance of Improved Ground and Earth Structures
3.7 Waterfront Structures
3.8 Geotechnical Effects on Transportation Systems
3.9 Conclusion
3.10 References
Section 4 Structural Damage
Michel Bruneau, Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, University at Buffalo, State University of New York
4.1 Past Earthquake History and Damage
4.2 Building Characteristics and Building Codes
4.3 Structural Damage
4.3.1 Foundation Failures
4.3.2 Soft Stories
4.3.3 Strong Beams and Weak Columns
4.3.4 Lack of Column Confinement and Poor Detailing Practice
4.3.5 Miscellaneous
4.4 Damage to Steel Structures
4.5 Other Construction Types, Nonstructural Damage and Seismic Retrofit
4.6 Damage from Aftershocks
4.7 Lessons Learned and Conclusions
4.8 References
Section 5 Damage to the Transportation Infrastructure
John Mander, Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, University at Buffalo, State University of New York
5.1 Damage to Highway Bridges
5.1.1 Collapse of the D650 E-80 Motorway Overpass
5.1.2 Collapsed Local River Bridge Near Akyazi
5.1.3 Damage to the E-80 Motorway Bridges over the Sakarya River
5.1.4 Damage to the D310 Overpass that Crosses the E-80 Motorway
5.1.5 Damage to Bridges on the D100 Highway
5.2 Damage to Roads
5.3 Damage to Railways
5.4 Damage to Port Facilities
5.5 Conclusion
Section 6 Performance of Industrial Facilities
Gayle S. Johnson, EQE International, Inc., Mark Aschheim, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Halil Sezen, Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, University of California, Berkeley
6.1 Types of Industry
6.1.1 Petrochemical Industry
6.1.2 Automobile Industry
6.2 Summary of Damage and Business Interruption
6.3 Tüpras Refinery Damage
6.3.1 Crude Unit and Stack Collapse
6.3.2 Port Damage and Oil Spill
6.4 Building Performance at Industrial Facilities
6.5 Performance of Non-Building Structures
6.6 Tank Damage
6.7 Equipment Damage
6.8 Other Fires
6.9 Summary
Section 7 Lifeline Performance
Charles Scawthorn, EQE International, Inc.
7.1 Water Systems
7.2 Wastewater
7.3 Electric System
7.4 Gas System
7.5 Summary and Lessons Learned
Section 8 Social, Political and Emergency Response
William Mitchell, Department of Political Science, Baylor University
8.1 Search and Rescue (Initial Response)
8.2 Brief Overview of Emergency Response
8.3 Casualties and Injuries
8.4 Medical Facilities
8.5 Mental Health Services
8.6 Displaced Persons
8.7 Turkish Red Crescent and Other Organizational Response
8.8 Media Response
8.9 Human Impact of the Destruction and Damage
8.10 Recommendations for Further Study
8.11 Conclusions
8.12 References
Section 9 Restoration Activities
Gary Webb, Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware
9.1 Housing and the Earthquake
9.1.1 Estimating the Number of Homeless
9.1.2 Three Types of Tent Cities
9.1.3 Adjusting to Daily Living in the Tent Cities
9.2 Restoration of Education After the Earthquake
9.3 Health Care Facilities and the Earthquake
9.4 Concluding Remarks and Future Research Needs
9.5 References
Section 10 The Marmara Earthquake: A View from Space
Ronald Eguchi, ImageCat, Inc., Charles Huyck, EQE International, Inc., Bijan Houshmand, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of California at Los Angeles, Babak Mansouri and Masanobu Shinozuka, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Southern California, Fumio Yamazaki and Masashi Matsuoka, Earthquake Disaster Mitigation Research Center, and Suha Ülgen, IMAGINS - TED
10.1 Purpose of the Trip
10.2 Itinerary
10.3 Field Investigations
10.3.1 New Technologies
10.3.2 Avcilar
10.3.3 Seymen
10.3.4 Adapazari
10.4 Summary



This report and the reconnaissance effort which made it possible are a collaborative effort between many investigators and institutions. Sponsorship of these activities was provided primarily by the Earthquake Engineering Research Centers Program of the National Science Foundation and the Federal Highway Administration through the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER). This support is gratefully acknowledged. Several of the authors were also members of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute’s (EERI) reconnaissance team, and/or the Geotechnical Reconnaissance team supported by the National Science Foundation.

The authors wish to collectively acknowledge the support and cooperation of the Turkish people who so willingly provided assistance during a very traumatic time. Many had the kindness and willingness to freely share information and provide access to damaged facilities.

The authors also wish to acknowledge the generous assistance of many organizations, agencies and individuals who made their visit possible and whose employees gave freely of their time and expertise. Some of these organizations and individuals are listed below and others are identified in the body of the report. They include:

• Professor Ayse Akalin, Department of Sociology, Bogaziçi University
• Mr. Rafael Alaluf, YESA, Istanbul
• Mr. Ismail Baris, Mayor of Gölcük
• Dr. Nesrin Basöz, K2 Technologies
• Professor Faruk Birtek, Department of Sociology, Bogaziçi University
• Mr. Serkan Bozkurt, IMAGINS
• Dr. H.T. Durgunoglu, Zetas Earth Technology Corporation, Istanbul
• Professor Mustafa Erdik, Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute
• Mr. Fakir Erdogan, Turkish Electricity Generation-Transmission Corporation
• Dr. Semih Ergintav, TÜBITAK
• Dr. Polat Gülkan, Middle East Technical University
• Mr. Gürsel Hanci, Safak Güvenlik
• Mr. Marin Jordanov, EQE International, Sofia, Bulgaria
• Professor Elif Kale, Department of Sociology, Bogaziçi University
• T. Karadayilar, Zetas Earth Technology Corporation, Istanbul
• C. Emren Öge, Zetas Earth Technology Corporation, Istanbul
• Mr. Atilla Özdikmen, Alter Uluslararasi
• Professor Nazmiye Özgüç, University of Istanbul
• Mr. Baris Öztek, Birikim DA
• Mr. Mike Price, Operations Manager, Izmit Water Project
• Mr. Larry Roeder, U.S. State Department
• Dr. Betlem Rosich, ESA/ESRIN
• Mr. Turgay Türker, Türker Engineering
• Mr. Kadri Vezirolu, Vice Mayor of the City of Izmit
• Dr. M. Namik Yalçin, TÜBITAK
• Dr. Hülya Yildirim, TÜBITAK

Ordering Information

You can proceed directly from this page into the ordering section of our online publications catalog. To do so, select the item(s) in which you are interested, then click "Order Publications" button below. Your order will be taken online and the item(s) shipped to you. (To search our other publications, you can proceed directly to our catalog.)

  I would like to order The Marmara, Turkey Earthquake of August  17, 1999: Reconnaissance Report. Copies are$35.00 each.


For Further Information:

University at Buffalo, State University of New York
107 Red Jacket Quadrangle
Buffalo, New York, USA 14261
phone: 716-645-3395
fax: 716-645-3399


  Contact Us  |  Acknowledgements   |  Disclaimer  |  Copyright© 2007 by the Research Foundation of the State of New York. All rights reserved.