At 3:02 a.m. the quake struck. Nine years to the moment, mourners gather in the thousands to remember loved ones who died in the devastating Marmara quake. A wreath put to sea near the earthquake monument in Gölcük read 'We will never forget.'
Tens of thousands around the country yesterday marked the ninth anniversary of the Aug. 17, 1999 Marmara earthquake that killed at least 17,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in Turkey's densely populated industrial heartland of Kocaeli, Turkish Daily News reported.
Memorial ceremonies all over the region began at 3:02 a.m., the time the earthquake struck. Shoddily constructed buildings and a lack of preparation for such a devastating earthquake were blamed for the huge death toll.
Firdevs Akgül, who has attended the memorial ceremonies at the center of Adapazarı every year, told the Doğan news agency that the pain of having lost her 12-year-old daughter was as fresh as if it were the moment the quake had struck.
"My daughter would be 20 now," Akgül said. "I lived in a two-story house but the five-story apartment across the street collapsed onto ours. Someone needs to put a stop to these faulty constructions. Nine years on, I am still scared of apartments and am living in a prefabricated house."
A ceremony was held in front of the earthquake monument in Gölcük, where a wreath saying "We'll never forget" was released to the sea at 3:02 a.m. Hundreds of people carrying torches held a moment of silence in memory of lost loved ones.
Visits to cemeteries started early in the morning, with the passing of nine years making the huge loss only that much more unbearable.
The Doğan reported a 15-year-old boy was crying in front of a grave at the Aug. 17 Cemetery near the village of Saraylı in Gölcük, the epicenter of the quake. The boy, having lost his mother when he was 6 years old, refused to say his name but was not alone among the hundreds of people who were crying in front of gravestones all showing Aug. 17, 1999, as the date of death.
In another Aug. 17 Cemetery, located in the Serdivan disctrict of Adapazarı province, authorities noted that the official death toll in the area was 3,891, with 29 bodies still unidentified. Their gravestones gave the date of death, but there were no names.
The earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale lasted 37 seconds. The official death toll is placed at 17,127 killed and 43,953 injured, but many sources suggest the actual toll may be closer to 40,000 dead and a similar number injured. While Istanbul's center largely escaped the devastation, there were many deaths reported in Avcılar, west of the city.