On Friday 21 July 2017, an earthquake hit just off the coast of the Greek Island of Kos, and Turkish city of Bodrum in the Aegean Sea. The quake was 6.6 magnitude and triggered a tsunami. Two tourists were killed, and many others were forced to flee their hotel rooms as the quake hit at 1.30am local time
In this article we hear from former geography teacher Louise Barnes - who was on holiday at the time - about her experience and consider how infrastructure and everyday life in Kos was affected.
Throughout the article, we reflect on tourism in hazardous areas.
Where did it happen?
Why did it happen?
What was it like to experience an earthquake?
Should tourists be holidaying in hazardous areas?
Damaged church ©Louise Barnes, 2017
The earthquake happened in Gokova Bay on July 21 2017 at 1.31am local time. It had a moment magnitude of 6.6 and it is thought it has produced more than 100 aftershocks. A second tremor measuring 5.1 struck 16 miles south of Leros, and three further tremors measuring 4.6, 4.5 and 4.7 followed. The epicentre was around 12km away from Kos, Greece, and 8km away from Bodrum, Turkey – and later caused a tsunami event – this resulted in damage to the Bodrum Peninsula.
Kos, Greece has a population of 19,244 people – it is reported that overall the people of this region live in structures that are a mix of vulnerable and earthquake resistant in their construction. Many older buildings were damaged in the quake as they had not been built to new, earthquake resilient, standards. It has been reported that two people have died and over 500 people were injured. Tourism is critical to Kos – around 1.1m people visit the island each year, and it accounts for 60% of the local economy. As a result, during the earthquake many tourists were on the Island, and affected. Kos gained increased press attention in 2015 as part of the refugee crisis which saw both tourists and refugees entering the island and concerns from local government that tourism would be affected.
‘Please- we need holidaymakers to come to Kos’ (The Telegraph, 2015)
Kos: the Greek island where refugees and tourists share the same beaches (The Guardian, 2015)
Distant shores? Tourists and refugees on Kos in pictures (The Guardian, 2015)
The earthquake occurred as a result of faulting at a shallow crust depth within the Eurasia plate – it was only 10km below the sea bed, according to the US Geological Society. The tectonics surrounding the region is fairly complex. To the south, Africa subducts beneath the Eurasia plate and to the east, the Anatolian microplate (part of Eurasia) moves along as a block in a general westward direction. The Aegean Sea often experiences moderate to large earthquakes, and the faulting experienced on this occasion is consistent with past earthquakes that have occurred.
The earthquake caused strong wave motions and damages that were felt in Kos – in particularly the port of Kos experienced extensive inundation which caused damages to infrastructure and boats.
Earthquakes in Greece-Turkey region of the Aegean Sea 1967-2017 (ESRI story map)
A full summary of how the earthquake occurred – with maps and visuals can be downloaded here (USGS, 2017)
Map of tectonic plates in the Mediterranean (USGS, 2017)
This interactive map shows where the earthquake hit
Field Survey on the Bodrum Kos Tsunami (2017)
According the Greek Ministry of Infrastructure, 141 out of 523 house buildings were found to be uninhabitable – it is reported that old structures, such as churches and monuments suffered the most. The commercial port of Kos was rendered temporarily out of use due to the damage in the dock from the tsunami. We spoke to Louise Barnes, who was holidaying in Kos during the earthquake. Below, we feature here Louise’s accounts and images of the destruction caused by the earthquake.
Damaged Church ©Louise Barnes, 2017
Damaged pillar ©Louise Barnes, 2017
Damage to pipes and water works ©Louise Barnes, 2017
Shop and products damaged ©Louise Barnes, 2017
Fault at the harbour © Louise Barnes, 2017
Damage at the harbour © Louise Barnes, 2017
Tsunami debris © Louise Barnes, 2017
Footage of the earthquake in Kos (YouTube, 2017)
Images of the damage (Reuters, 2017)
Holidays rocked by tremors in pictures (The Telegraph, 2017)
In the UK media, the earthquake was largely framed in terms of its effect on tourist experience. Although reflecting on the concept of leisure tourism may seem fractious, particularly when people are suffering as a result of natural disasters – tourists have an important role to play in earthquake recovery. For example, visitors can offer important accounts of earthquake experience which can be used to help geographers, geologists, and those studying hazards. However, given the, rather scary, accounts presented in this case study – should tourists visit areas which are likely to experience natural disasters? Tourists can help rebuilding places economically, with tourism itself proving to be a resilient industry – natural disaster tends to lead to considerable infrastructural damage, as seen in the case of this earthquake. According to Dr Yeganeh Morakabati (2017), whose research explores perceptions of risk and who has written about the earthquakes experienced in Mexico, 2017, ‘staying away and watching the scene on TV will not help’ but supporting ‘the tourist economy, however, might’.
It’s important to keep tourism afloat in areas that experience natural disasters (The Conversation, 2017)
Brit tourists told they will not be refunded for holidays booked to Kos despite earthquake (The Metro, 2017)
Research the location of Kos to produce a place-based factfile – build upon this with research into the history of earthquakes in Kos – have they been consistent in their impact?
Study the quotes and images provided by Louise Barnes – what sorts of impacts can you identity? Consider social, economic, political, cultural and emotional.
As a class, debate: how can tourists help earthquake recovery? Consider short term and long term effects.
The Aegean Sea is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea
To flood, or cover, or overspread with water
The sideways and downward movement of the edge of a plate of the earth's crust into the mantle beneath another plate
A large wave on the ocean, usually caused by an undersea earthquake, a volcanic eruption, or coastal landslide
Ancient Greeks deliberately built sacred sites on areas shaken by earthquakes because they thought the land held spiritual powers (The Daily Mail, 2017)
Active earthquake faults may have played a role in the rise and demise of ancient sacred sites (Forbes, 2017)
Greece-Turkey earthquake: Two killed on the Island of Kos (BBC, 2017)
Earthquake in Turkey and Greece leaves at least two dead in Kos (The Guardian, 2017)
We thought the building was going to crumble around us: British tourists describe terror as quake struck Greece and Turkey (The Telegraph, 2017)
Returning “home”? : Emotional geographies of the disaster displacement in Christchurch, New Zealand (2011)
Japan earthquake and tsunami (2011)
Mountains, earthquakes, volcanoes (Animation)
Many thanks to Louise Barnes for sharing her experiences and images for this resource.
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