Turkey earthquake: Why it was so destructive and deadly

While new buildings in cities like Istanbul, Turkey were designed with modern earthquake standards in mind, the area of southern Turkey where a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck on Monday had not been seismically retrofitted.

Structural engineers said that's why so many buildings collapsed in seconds, only to see more fall with each major aftershocks.

In 1999, Turkey experienced a deadly earthquake that killed upwards of 18,000 people. 

Monday's earthquake looks to be worse.

"That was expected to produce some earthquakes but not to this magnitude and not this many, one after another," said Bay Area geological engineer and Turk Suleyman Yesilyert.

Though Turkey wrote new earthquake and retrofit building codes, structures that were considered new, also fell this time.

Legendary earthquake engineer Peter Yanev, who's done considerable work in Turkey, said building codes are only as good as the designers and builders who build and the inspectors who inspect them.

"That's kind of to be expected given the difficulty of both codes and code compliance," said Yanev.

"This particular region was not part of where that earthquake went back then(1999)," said Yanev.

So, older buildings fared far worse.

"Ninety percent of them, I should say are 20 plus years old pre-1999," said Yesilyurt.

Retired Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schappelhoman, a search and rescue teams leader has been to all manner of disasters.

"There's a lot of challenges for them to even get in the country and then get to someplace where they're gonna be able to do some good hopefully," said Schapelhouman.

Teams bring sophisticated listening and video devices as well as trained search dogs. But, dogs lose scent in rain and snow. Video devices can't see through rubble and must be snaked around. And listening devices, on moving piles of debris and covered with searchers on them, is very iffy.

"That's the hardest part is to get the whole site to go quiet," said Schapelhouman.

Within 24 hours of a quake, searchers have an 80% chance of finding survivors, but less than 10% by the fifth day; zero soon after. Teams then turn to direct aid.

"They have physicians, paramedics; more of the firemen are training in EMS and that a big part of their contingent; mass treatment, mass casualty treatment of helping out in that sort of setting," said Schapelhouman.

Though the San Andreas Fault can produce a 7.8 magnitude quake and the Hayward Fault, 7.5, U.S. and California building codes will produce far better survivability of buildings and people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.