Earthquakes are familiar occurrences in many parts of Central Asia, but with the help of the American Red Cross communities are learning how to be better prepared and minimize the devastation caused by disasters.
Ludmila Zasepina was only 7 years old when the 1948 earthquake struck, taking every member of her family with it. She spent years afterwards bouncing from orphanage to orphanage, along with many other young children victimized by the same tragedy. Batyr Kurbanov remembers his mother desperately struggling to pull her seven children from the rubble through a small opening in the side of their collapsed home. She couldn’t help them all.
Hardly known outside of the former Soviet Union, the 1948 earthquake in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan took the lives of an estimated 178,000 people. With many parts of Central Asia resting on the Eurasian-Himalayan fault line, this is one of the most earthquake-prone regions of the world.
With support from the American Red Cross, the Red Crescent Societies in Central Asia are helping to reduce the impact of future tragedies by implementing preparedness training courses aimed at school students, universities, special needs groups, hospitals and clinics, and other at-risk populations. Local Red Crescent volunteers and staff are teaching disaster preparedness to local communities and have trained 70,000 people to date.
“People have been very receptive to the project and our work, and really recognize how important this training is,” said Ainura Bastaubaeva of the Kazakhstan Red Crescent Society. “When even the smallest earthquake strikes, the community simply panics and has no real idea what to do. They stay in the streets for most of the night, afraid to go back to their homes. Hopefully, we can help alleviate some of those fears, and make everyone more prepared to help themselves and their families when the time comes.”
While there are perhaps only 200 survivors of the 1948 earthquake in Ashgabat still alive, each and every one of them has a story to tell. The event was a national tragedy, memorialized today by a striking monument and an annual day of mourning. Together, with the collective efforts of the Red Cross, these communities can become better prepared for disasters creating a safer future for thousands..