The countries of Turkey and Syria remain in peril after Feb. 6, when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastated the two areas, rallying the support of students at Hopkins.
The earthquake was caused by a release of stress built up along the East Anatolian Fault, located on the border of Turkey and Syria. Said Earth science teacher Maura Foley, “This fault is a strike-slip fault where tectonic plates move past each other. As plates slide past each other tension builds up. When this tension becomes too much, the fault breaks and the subsequent release of energy is what we call an earthquake.” Following the initial earthquake, a multitude of aftershocks ensued, including one almost as powerful as the first.
The quake served as the most devastating to hit Turkey in recent history, taking the lives of more than 50,000 people and leaving 1.5 million without a home. Ben Simon ’24 recalls his reaction to the magnitude of the death tolls: “Just looking at the number of casualties was pretty astonishing, with the numbers being higher than the populations of entire towns.” Horror stories from survivors affected people from all over the world.
One account described a young boy from Turkey rescued after being trapped under rubble for almost nine days. Sydney Matthews ’23 was moved by this story: “I was surprised and sad to hear the story and I couldn’t imagine what other people who were trapped had to go through.”
An element that contributed to the extremity of the situation was that the fault had been dormant for a while. “If a particular portion of a fault has not broken recently,” Foley said, “it has more potential to break and create a large earthquake.” This fact led researchers in the area to be able to forecast that such an incident will occur some time in the future. Foley continued, “Researchers in Turkey had been tracking [the East Anatolian Fault] and the lack of recent stress release. They modeled that it could produce a quake of the magnitude similar to the one that occurred [on February 6th].”
Although Turkey’s location near two faults attests to its susceptibility to earthquakes, the unpredictability of such natural events complicates national preparation efforts. “Here in CT,” Foley said, “when there is a tropical storm on its way, we often get days of warning and can put aside some bottled water, secure outdoor areas and engage in other preparedness activities. When it comes to earthquakes, preparedness has to occur way in advance.”
For others who have experienced natural disasters firsthand, including Brayden Gray ’24, the news of the earthquakes was more personal. One of the heads of the Natural Disaster Relief Club at Hopkins, Gray was forcibly evacuated from his home in the United States Virgin Islands in 2017 when Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 hurricane, directly hit his home island of St. Croix. He detailed his experience in the midst of the storm: “The island was completely destroyed, with houses blowing away, boats being destroyed, thousands of people becoming homeless, and many becoming injured…Our car’s windows had been completely shattered and a palm tree had fallen on our roof.” The most difficult part of the disaster, according to Gray, “was moving away. All of my friends and myself had left the island after the hurricane and it was very hard to feel at home in Connecticut after the hurricane. While away from St. Croix, I felt like I had cheated, and that it was my responsibility to help clean up my home.” This responsibility led his brother Colin Gray ’22 to create the Natural Disaster Relief club “in order to help those affected by disasters like the one we were.”
Gray, along with the club, is working with charities and other nonprofits to relieve the hardships of those impacted by the Turkey-Syria earthquakes. One of their endeavors included a dodgeball tournament and bake sale fundraiser, attended by Simon, Matthews, and many more Hopkins students. Maggie Fearon ’23, one of the Natural Disaster heads, reported having collected $600 through the fundraiser.
Relief efforts did not stop there for the club. “Currently,” Fearon said, “we are planning on starting the first ever Hopkins shoe drive within the coming weeks. Funds2Orgs receives and processes the shoes collected from the shoe drive fundraiser and provides us with money in return, which will be donated to those affected by the earthquakes.” To support the cause, Fearon urges the community to “search their closets for old shoes to donate, sign up to participate in future tournaments and buy baked goods.”
Although the tournament was “a success” according to Gray, he stressed the importance of continued student and faculty aid. “The urgency of the situation is undeniable,” Gray said, “and we need the Hopkins community’s support more than ever.”