City of 15 million is on a fault line rocked by a series of temblors

Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city with 15 million people, should prepare for an earthquake of magnitude 7.5.

That was the chilling prediction of Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu after the temblor measuring 6.7 that killed dozens of people Jan. 24 in Elazig province, 750 miles from the nation’s economic heartland. A quake as strong as 7.5 could level buildings and cause tens of thousands of deaths.

The Elazig convulsion, and a much smaller tremor this week, add urgency to warnings by officials and scientists of a calamity. Istanbul sits at the western extremity of the Northern Anatolian Fault Zone, which divides Turkey horizontally and has been hammered by seismic activity since the 1939 Erzincan quake, magnitude 7.2. Five major tremors since then have each been further to the west. The epicenter of the destructive Marmara temblor in 1999 — magnitude 7.6 — was just 70 miles from Istanbul.

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