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

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Early in the morning of Tuesday, August 17, 1999, a magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck along the Anatolian fault in the northwestern region of Turkey. Epicentered approximately 11 km southeast of the industrial city of Izmit, the earthquake lasted 45 seconds and was felt over thousands of square miles in Turkey’s most densely populated region. Commercial and residential buildings from Adapazari to Istanbul collapsed, resulting in large-scale loss of life. According to official government estimates (as of October 19, 1999), the earthquake killed over 17,000, and injured almost 44,000 people. Estimates of property losses (as of September 14, 1999) according to the World Bank range from $3 to $6.5 billion, which is equivalent to 1.5 to 3.3 percent of the Gross National Product of Turkey. It was the most devastating earthquake to strike Turkey since the 1939 Erzincan earthquake, which killed 30,000 people. According to official Turkish government estimates, the earthquake displaced more than 250,000 people. Approximately 120 tent cities were required for emergency housing. About 214,000 residential units and 30,500 business units were lightly to heavily damaged.

Within days, MCEER dispatched several researchers to the region - three of them simultaneously serving as part of the Earthquake Engineering Research Center (EERI) reconnaissance team - to examine the earthquake’s impact. Their initial observations and impressions are reported in two publications, MCEER Response by M. Bruneau, J. Mander, W. Mitchell, A. Papageorgiou, C. Scawthorn and N. Sigaher, and in a Preliminary Report by C. Scawthorn. Both reports can be accessed from our web site at

MCEER sponsored a second reconnaissance trip to Turkey together with the Earthquake Disaster Mitigation (EDM) Research Center in Miki, Japan. Team members visited Turkey from September 28 to October 4 to conduct high level reconnaissance using satellite imagery, differential global positioning systems and in-field GPS-GIS interfaces. In addition, restoration activities already underway were observed and documented.

This report includes observations from both these reconnaissance trips. It is the product of many authors representing several disciplines and, while not a final assessment of the topics addressed, represents an interim earthquake engineering evaluation of the natural, built and social environments. As noted by several of the authors, the analogies between the North Anatolian Fault Zone in Turkey and the San Andreas Fault in the United States are strikingly similar. The observations and conclusions herein form a springboard for future collaborative research efforts, which will advance society’s ability to better withstand the destruction caused by earthquakes throughout the world.



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