When I was in Gyumri–in 2011 and 2012–I could still see evidence of the massive earthquake that struck Armenia on December 7, 1988 at 11:41 a.m. The epicenter was located in Spitak, at least 25,000 people lost their lives,and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. Measuring 6.8 on the Richter Scale, the massive earthquake destroyed poorly constructed Soviet buildings across the region and many other buildings sustained heavy damage or collapsed.
The small city of Spitak was destroyed, while the nearby cities of Leninakan (later renamed to Gyumri) and Kirovakan (later renamed to Vanadzor) sustained a lot of damage as well. The tremor also caused damage to many surrounding villages.
Since most of the hospitals in the area were destroyed, and due to freezing winter temperatures, officials at all levels were not ready for a disaster of this scale and the relief effort was therefore insufficient. The Soviet Union allowed in foreign aid workers to help with the recovery in the earthquake’s aftermath, and this was one of the first cases when rescue and relief workers from other countries were allowed to take part in relief works in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev cut short a visit to New York City in order to visit the disaster area. He promised to have all of the damaged areas quickly rebuilt.
The outpouring of aid from both private individuals and governments around the world was very generous, though much of it had a great deal of trouble reaching Armenia through Azerbaijan which was blocking and damaging shipments.
Although I have read that, in 2003, the last of those homeless due to the earthquake were either given new apartments by the Lincy Foundation or vouchers to purchase homes, when I visited Gyumri it was clearly evident that many people were still living in boxcars and quite a number of buildings have yet to be reconstructed.
I am posting this because a part of Gyumri will always tied to my family…my daughter was born in the nearby countryside. I was taken with Gyumi’s beauty, its history, the intricate ironwork of the buildings and the spare, dramatic landscapes that surround the city, and I mourn all they lost–as a city and a people.