Ashgabat tragedy: 70 year after

Powerful earthquake with 7.3 magnitude by Richter scale that took the lives of tens of thousands of people, occurred in Ashgabat 70 years ago on October night 1948. According to the UNESCO, it was one of the most devastating catastrophes of XX century.

People, who survived that earthquake, observe October 6 as the date of their second birthday. Head of Ashgabat Seismic Department V. T. Archangelsky recalled about that night:

Heavy tremors with sharp up and down shocks have started. It was accompanied by rumbling noise. It felt as if I was on huge cart running at high speed on cobblestone street Sound of breaking walls were heard from everywhere; small items and furniture were jumping and shaking in chaotic disorder The bulb was still lighting moving and blinking when cracks has run across the plaster like black thunder lights turning the walls into separate pieces and blocks, which were still able to support leaning ceiling. On the count of three, I run out to the yard, having hit the tree, which grew three meters away from the house. This was transverse wave. Strong horizontal shakes were literally knowing down from the feet throwing from side to side. After 10 � 15 seconds, the tremors started subsiding slowly replaced with light tremors.

It was only the rumble of collapsing buildings, the cracks of breaking beams, crushing metal, - famous geologist, academic D. V. Nalivkin who was in Ashgabat those days recalled. � Thud noise like deep sigh run across the city and dead silence came. No cries for help, no sounds of animals as if everything and everybody died under the ruins. After some times the first signs of life like calls for help, groans of injured, children's crying, laments of the relatives buried under the ruins started to come.

Fragile buildings and impossibility to forecast coming catastrophe led to the fact that nobody was able to leave the buildings. Tens of thousands of people were under the ruins of their houses, having not event realized what has happened

Famous geologist, academic Dmitry Nalivkin who come to Ashgabat for a meeting on Garabogaz those days recalled: After several days after the first quake, I was flying by military plane above the city. The same picture was block after block. It was terrible and hard to see. The number of victims was not calculated accurately but the figure was shaking.

Almost all single-storey living houses made of raw bricks, 95 percent of soongle-storey buildings made of burnt bricks were destroyed and the remaining part of the buildings were damaged beyond the repair. Only few buildings remained suitable for work but only after complete refurbishment.

Electrical network and telephone communication were also destroyed, the telegraph was not working. Bridges and roads were out of service, water and irrigation systems were severely damaged. Railway station of the city turned into pile of ruins, airport was not functioning � the cracks of the runways make it impossible for landing.

First rescue works were organized by military command and anti-aircraft defence headquarters. Soldiers rescued people, evacuated the wounded, build temporary shelters together with people.

One hour after the earthquake, the group of medical personnel started giving medical aid at the central square of the city. One of the eyewitnesses recalled: Surgeons B. Smirnov (Academic and Translator of Mahabharata) G. Beburishvili, M. Mostovoy. I. Berezin, V. Skavinsky and other medics arranged a hospital. They lit up the fires and was boiling water and buckets, covered the tables with cloths and started working. Boris Smirnov make surgeries of head injuries. Other was amputating the limbs. The light of flares and fires was showing horrible picture � hundreds of people lying everywhere, figures of medics leaned over the tables...

Best surgeons of Azerbaijan flew out of Baku by sanitary aviation crafts early in the morning of October 6. Medical and sanitary equipment, tents and instruments, portable generators were also brought.

First trains with troops, medical brigades and food supplies came to Ashgabat. Author Maria Balahova wrote: Aircrafts were taken off from Moscow and other cities of the Soviet Union and headed to Ashgabat. Three Li-2 that flew out of Moscow have already crossed Caspian Sea and was flying above Turkmenistan. The first plane was piloted by the Soviet union Hero Taran. He was escorted by Dymov on his right and Filonov on his left wings. Finally, Ashgabat airport appeared. There were already dozens of Li-2, which arrived from the nearest cities. These military transport aircraft were sent for help to the injured of the earthquake by the order of Chief Commander of the Air Forces K. Vershinin.

Aircrafts with different supplies started to come every 15-20 minutes to backup field airport Ashagabat � South (Gaudan living estate is located currently at this place). The life in depopulated city was normalized by the New Year. Construction of new Ashgabat has started in 1949 according to urgent plan.

Causes of catastrophic losses are clear after many years. The scientists noted that number of killed significantly exceeded the number of heavily injured. It could happen only if the majority of buildings were built without taking into account seismic safety and construction materials were of poor quality, which led to breakdown of constructions. Hydrological characteristics of the region had big impact on the earthquake outcomes. Seismic effect was several times higher in Ashgabat area on unfavourable heavily wet and weak soils. Probably, it was from the experience of the earthquakes in Verniy city (Almaty) in 1887 and 1911 that some of pre-revolutionary public buildings were raised with sufficient safety margin.

Materials received during study of the consequences of Ashgabat earthquake were laid in the base of development of seismic researches and development of seismic resistant construction. Seismic Construction Department was founded under Physics and technical Institute of Turkmen branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences in April 1949 for solution of the issues related to construction in seismic areas. In 1951, the department was transformed to the Scientific and Research Institute of Anti-seismic construction of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmen SSR and in 1962, it was renamed to the Institute of Seismic Construction. Today, it is the part of the structure of the Ministry of Construction and Architecture of Turkmenistan.

Re-building its capital in the zone of high seismic activity, Turkmenistan oriented to the international standards. Powerful base of industrial construction has been made for provision of seismic safety. At present time, scientifically based approach and innovations in construction sphere are guaranteed protection against devastating earthquakes.

Ashgabat, which was erased from the Earth, re-emerged as Phoenix. Today, white-marble city delights not only by its scale and quality of construction but also by fine architecture, park and garden ensembles and fountain complexes, wide avenues and modern road intersections and original lighting decoration.

Source: Turkmenistan: the Golden Age Online Newspaper