The earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria in February generated roughly 100 million cubic meters of debris in Turkey, more than other natural disasters in recent memory, according to estimates from the U.N. Development Program (UNDP).
The debris, which is primarily made up of concrete, steel and other building materials, would be enough to cover about half of D.C. in one meter deep of rubble.
The volume outpaces debris from Hurricanes Katrina (76 million cubic meters of debris), Sandy (11 million) and Harvey (9 million), according to government estimates of those storms.
The sequence of high-magnitude earthquakes and the vulnerability of the structures in the affected areas contributed to the high volume, Christine Goulet, director of the USGS Earthquake Science Center, told The Washington Post. The earthquake in February was the strongest to strike Turkey since 1939.
“The number of collapses is astounding,” Goulet said.
“A city is not built in one day. It includes buildings constructed over decades under different building codes and with varying construction practices.” And while some building collapses would be expected with such powerful earthquakes, they should be rare — especially among recently constructed buildings, Goulet said.
The affected region is also rich in cultural heritage sites, in addition to homes and businesses. “There’s an urgency to protect those exposed spaces and not to confuse them with rubble,” said Louisa Vinton, UNDP’s representative in Turkey. The organization is helping with the cleanup effort.
“It’s very delicate to describe this as debris management,” Vinton said. “These are human lives and human dreams and human memories. People lost everything in a matter of seconds.”