John B. Mander, a University at Buffalo professor of civil engineering, was in Turkey recently to study how the devastating earthquake there affected highways, roads and bridges.
But what sticks in his mind now is "a stench that was something else."
Mander was shocked at how overwhelmed the Turkish people and their government were by the catastrophe, which killed more than 15,000 people.
The Turks were having "horrific difficulty" coping with the enormity of the disaster, and the government "didn't know which way to go," the New Zealand-born bridge and highway expert said.
In the Sea of Marmara port of Golcuk, close to the epicenter of the quake, Mander saw what he called a leadership vacuum.
"In spite of the damage all around and the need of the people, there were about six frigates tied up there, and all seemed to have a full complement of men," he said. "They were Turkish sailors, and they were doing nothing."
What struck him was seeing a pool of personnel that should have been trying to rescue trapped people.
"But then I realized they were waiting for instructions that never came," he said.
Their officers were killed when the earthquake collapsed a hotel-like barracks where they stayed while in port, Mander explained.
"There was no command to the sailors," he said.
Mander was part of a U.S. team of experts sent by the national Earthquake Engineering Research Institute to study the aftermath of the quake. He met up with one of his UB doctoral students -- Natali Sigaher, 26, who is from Turkey and was in Istanbul when the quake hit.
"There was a lot of panic, and we could get no definite news," she said of the quake, which measured 7.4 on the Richter scale. "The aftershocks were very frequent and very strong. Electricity was coming in and out, and there was no water for a long time."
Only one section of Istanbul, a city of 16 million, was damaged by the quake.
"But you never knew if anything worse would happen," said Ms. Sigaher, who slept outside with her parents for four nights because of the aftershocks.
She, too, was appalled by the confusion surrounding rescue efforts.
"There was a gap in organization and coordination," she said. "Civilians were trying very hard to save people in the damaged areas. Rescue teams didn't arrive (for more than a day). U.S. teams were made to wait at customs as they did not have Turkish visas."
Istanbul and the area of the worst damage are located on Turkey's North Anatolian fault.
"This is a well-known, active fault," Ms. Sigaher pointed out. "We should have crisis teams and some organization in Turkey because we have to live with these things; they are always going to take place.
"There is a lot of bad construction even though it is apparent we know how to build for earthquakes. I saw many buildings that survived with no damage right beside ones that were gone. There is a lot of ignorance."
Mander asked Ms. Sigaher to accompany him and members of the U.S. team studying the quake to several of the most damaged areas. Professionally, they were rewarded by the fact that the fault was rendered visible by the quake.
"It is fairly unusual that you can actually see a fault," Mander said. "Usually, a fault is under a river or sea or under land. This fault was visible for many miles."
While Mander and Ms. Sigaher were in Golcuk, where a large percentage of the buildings collapsed, they visited a new Ford plant that was nearly completed when the quake struck, destroying half of the structure.
"This was not because the construction was unsound," Mander noted. "The ground movements were just too much for the building to cope with."
The naval base Mander and Ms. Sigaher also visited was so ravaged that it is not expected to be rebuilt.
They also visited the small city of Adapazari, where the destruction was so widespread that authorities are considering relocating its 180,000 people.
"We went to the city hall, where authorities were beginning to process papers for misplaced persons," Mander said. "They were quite scared
about going into the building, so they hooked up their computers outside, where they felt safer."
It was very hot, "95 degrees," Mander added, "so the smell (of decomposing bodies) got worse. We were given masks to wear, but they didn't entirely help."
Ms. Sigaher, whose field is earthquake engineering with emphasis on energy-dissipation systems, returned to Buffalo a week after the quake. Mander, representing the Federal Highway Administration for the U.S. reconnaissance team, stayed on to study the impact of the quake on bridges and highways.
"A simple lesson was learned," he noted: "Real engineering works. If a bridge is designed appropriately, it is able to resist large earthquakes."
A major new bridge Mander saw -- which is being built with "special metallic yielding energy devices on top" -- fared well in the quake, he said.
Some others didn't.
"We looked at a lot of different style bridges to get an idea, for the future, of what performs well and what doesn't under different environmental conditions," he said.
Mander did the same with highway systems in the region.
"The highway department was pretty responsive to everything," he noted. "Just west of Adapazari is a very highly traveled highway where all the embankments you drive on had settled down into the ground about 20 inches.
The highway department had everything working pretty well within three days."
Mander already has submitted an initial report on his findings to the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, which is based in Oakland, Calif. He is putting together a more formal analysis of why some things failed and some did not.
His trip also was sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at UB.