A municipality worker and the owner of a coffee shop, located in the basement of the building, alerted residents by ringing the bells, shouting and throwing pebbles at the windows and saving many lives, authorities said. The reason of the collapse was not immediately clear.
Ýstanbul Governor Muammer Güler, Ýstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaþ and Zeytinburnu Mayor Murat Aydýn rushed to the site soon after the collapse. Whether the building was in the 1999 earthquake was yet to be seen, the governor said. Ýstanbul Mayor Topbaþ said the storey at the entrance level had been used as a bakery between 1987 -- when the building was given a certificate for the first time -- and 1997. "Smoke going out from the bakery's chimney might have heated up and melted the iron reinforcing the building over time," the mayor reasoned. Initial news reports claimed the building was among buildings schedule for demolition in Zeytinburnu, after teams inspecting buildings for quake-readiness completed their work in the region, the mayor stressed.
Topbaþ confirmed that the building was listed as unsafe and needed to be demolished, contradicting statements from Aydýn who denied that the building was on any demolition list. He also said Zeytinburnu's buildings on average were stronger against possible earthquakes than most other regions of the city. Aydýn described the collapse of the building as a major misfortune. "Think of it this way," he said. "You go to the doctor's for a full physical. They tell you everything is fine, but then you die of a heart attack the next day. This is the situation with that building."
Turkish rescuers often carry out earthquake drills in Ýstanbul to test the earthquake preparedness of the sprawling city of more than 12 million that experts believe could be hit by a huge earthquake sometime in the next 30 years.
Shoddy construction was also blamed for many of the deaths in two 1999 earthquakes in western Turkey. Several contractors who were charged with negligence for ignoring building codes escaped punishment this week when the statute-of-limitations expired in all ongoing cases that were filed in 1999.
Will Ýstanbul make it in time for the quake?
The Ýstanbul Greater Municipality has prepared a master plan to counter an earthquake that involves reinforcing buildings, analyzing surfaces and establishing a reliable and fast emergency network to facilitate communication and transportation if and when a major earthquake hits Turkey's largest city.
An earthquake registering 7.5 on the Richter scale would affect approximately 9 million individuals residing in 750 000 buildings, according to projections of a report by the Ýstanbul Metropolitan Municipality and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). In this same scenario, at least 50,000 buildings in the city would be severely damaged, with at least 500,000 families being left without homes and 70,000 deaths. In the same disaster scenario, up to 130,000 people would be severely injured, while 400,000 others would suffer less severe injuries. Gas leaks would occur in at least 30,000 points and 3 percent of the city's electric cables would break. At least 1 million people would need help from a rescue operation in such a disaster.
The municipality has undertaken the massive task of transforming the city, working jointly with Turkey's major universities. Ironically, Zeytinburnu, the site of the building that collapsed Wednesday, was chosen as the pilot region for Ýstanbul's giant earthquake plan.
The project is massive, according to Faruk Göksu, a city planner from the Mimar Sinan University who has taken part in countless urban transformation projects over the years. "The Metropolitan Municipality is developing a serious quake-oriented plan. However, we are talking about a massive project that cannot be done overnight. Urban transformation is not easy. Undoing what has been done over 30 years will most certainly take some time."
Turkey's City Planners' Chamber (SPO) also agrees that the town needs an urban transformation project more than anything else. although they stress that the current projects, which mainly include demolishing unsafe buildings with new, quake-resistant and luxurious apartment complexes.
SPO's Ýstanbul branch secretary Tayfun Kahraman said: "Urban transformation is about offering healthy urban conditions to the residents. An urban transformation project should be prepared and carried out with active participation of area people. Quarters where lower-class people live are generally chosen for current projects, which exclude the locals of a certain area and push them out to the periphery of the town."
Even though the current projects don't match the SPO's definition, speeding up wouldn't hurt. At the pace they are currently going, Kahraman says it might take Ýstanbul a "very long" time to be ready for an earthquake.