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One year after the once-in-a-century earthquake in Turkey and Syria: the catastrophe is still visible in the affected areas. People here are still grieving over the loss of family members and friends. SPIEGEL editor Anna-Sophie Schneider visited the province of Hatay.

Anna-Sophie Schneider, DER SPIEGEL:

»The mood is incredibly depressing. Of course, what people still carry with them a year later is that they were not able to properly bury their acquaintances, relatives and friends. This means that everything is happening in a big hurry. All the rituals of saying goodbye could not take place, and that means that the grieving process simply continues. There are still aftershocks in the region, which then repeatedly triggers this trauma. Especially with the children, who will be back very, very quickly on the night of February 6th.

On that night a year ago, the earth in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria shook several times and was so strong that more than 55,000 people died. 150,000 people were injured, some seriously, and hundreds of thousands are still suffering from the consequences of the natural disaster.

Anna-Sophie Schneider, DER SPIEGEL:


promised back then that everything would be rebuilt. And more beautiful, better and safer. At the time, he wanted to assure his potential voters of quick help. The country was three months away from the presidential election campaign, and the government wanted to have more than 300,000 homes built by the anniversary. Now, a year after the earthquake, we can see what has become of these promises.«

On the anniversary, Antakya, the provincial capital, is still in ruins. Many buildings would actually have to be demolished. Schools are missing, hospitals are destroyed. More than 200,000 people continue to live in container cities in Hatay province. And there is also a danger from contaminated sites in the destroyed buildings: health experts expect a massive increase in cancer cases in the next few years.

Anna-Sophie Schneider, DER SPIEGEL:

»In the middle of the residential areas, concrete and metal are separated. This is despite the fact that many random samples in the region have shown that there is asbestos in the destroyed buildings. That means the health risk is huge. People were warned about this and yet no one there wears a mask. Neither the construction workers nor the residents. And that’s a ticking time bomb.”

Health experts expect a massive increase in cancer cases in the next few years. But why is it that Turkey is repeatedly affected by earthquakes?

The country is an earthquake country: the area is very seismically active. In the so-called East Anatolian Fault Zone, where the Anatolian and Arabian plates meet, tensions arise in the earth's crust that have triggered the past earthquakes. The Turkish metropolis of Istanbul is also considered to be at risk.

Anna-Sophie Schneider, DER SPIEGEL:

»16 million people live here. It is built very tightly. In recent years, many open spaces where people could perhaps gather have been built over. And the question of whether there will be an earthquake here does not arise. The catastrophe will come. Nobody can say when.”

Local elections will take place in Turkey in March. Reconstruction and protection against further earthquakes will be important issues. It is not clear whether the usual campaign promises will stick or whether there will be lasting changes for the people in the affected areas.