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‘Forgotten calamity’: Today marks 30th anniversary of devastating earthquake in Armenia
Thirty years ago today, on December 7th 1988, the devastating magnitude 6.8 earthquake shook Armenia, covering 40% of the country’s territory.
In a matter of seconds, the second and third largest cities of Gyumri and Vanadzor (Leninakan and Kirovakan at the time), the town of Spitak and over a 100 towns and villages across the country were levelled to the ground.
The estimated death toll was over 25,000; around 500,000 were left homeless. The disaster destroyed 17% of the country’s housing fund (8 million square meters), causing damage to 230 industrial facilities hiring a total of 82,000 employees. The estimated damage to the country’s economy was 13 billion Soviet Rubles.
A day after the earthquake, a delegation led by Nikolay Rizhkov, the president of the USSR Council of Ministers, arrived in Yerevan from Moscow.
Over 113 countries and seven international organizations lent their helping hand to Armenia.
Many states continued their assistance also in the subsequent years. Italian and Austrian specialists constructed residential districts in Spitak. A team of Norwegian aid workers built a hospital with state of the art facilities. Two years after the earthquake, Lord Byron School opened in Gyumri thanks to funds provided by the British government.
From 1989 until 2000, residential buildings with an estimated total area of 3.5 square meters were put into exploitation in the disaster zone.
The president of Shirak Center (non-profit organization in Gyumri), Vahan Tumasyan, says the past three decades have left their deepening imprint on the city, dividing it into two different parts.
“The aftermaths we are facing today are even more painful, with the divide being too deep between the two communities of our city’s population. 10,000 people, i.e. – about 2,500 families, still live in wagons on the outskirts or in semi-solid apartment blocks. They have developed a specific kind of mentality after 30 years of life in temporary homes,” he told Tert.am, highlighting the extreme poverty as a pressing problem causing many families to move out to urban slums.
According to Tumasyan, the elimination of the disaster consequences is much more complicated today, with the psychological impact being “too heavy”.
“The first, and probably also the most optimal, solution has to do with the authorities’ willingness, their desire to look with open eyes upon the situation – instead of citing figures and offering excuses. Yes, they very often discuss possible reasons, focusing, for instance, on a family that was left homeless, etc. But that’s tantamount to insulting someone and thinking of what to do next to save his or her life … With the 30th anniversary approaching, [the 1988 quake] is a hot topic which may even attract the international media; yet, it is a forgotten calamity, as everybody forgets about everything after December 7,” he added.
Tumasyan noted that the generations born and living in makeshift homes have developed their certain specific psychological traits, adopting habits such as early dropout of school, early marriage and divorce, etc. He noted that many young men exempted from military draft are residents of those very wagons. “It looks like the entire poverty of Armenia has been concentrated in one place, while we keep on saying that [Gyumri] is a cultural city,” he said.
Credits to tert.am web page.