It is difficult for us to come to grips with a natural disaster as deadly and destructive as the massive earthquake in Turkey that some observers think may have killed upward of 35,000 persons and inflicted $35 billion in damage on the country's economy.

When those of us in travel confront catastrophe, it is often the calamitous consequence of a powerful hurricane that leaves us humbled in the wake of a rampaging and seemingly callous Mother Nature.

But consider the following numbers when attempting to put the tragic events in Turkey in perspective:

  • In 1969, Hurricane Camille, considered one of the most deadly storms ever to hit the U.S., was responsible for 258 deaths and $1.42 billion in damage.
  • In 1989, 60 persons died as a result of Hurricane Hugo, which hammered the West Indies and the southeastern U.S. at a cost of $7 billion.
  • Even more telling are the mortality figures for earthquakes published by the National Earthquake Center of the U.S. Geological Survey.

    According to the center, a total of 8,928 persons were killed in all the world's earthquakes last year, a shockingly high number but one that pales in comparison to an ungodly death toll that still grows by the hour in northern Turkey.

    Of course, we are grateful that hotels and historic tourism sites in Istanbul and other major cities appear to have survived relatively unscathed. And we are grateful, too, that few Americans lost their lives in the disaster.

    But mourning the dead and celebrating the survivors are not enough. It seems to us that all who prosper from selling travel to places like Turkey -- agents, operators, airlines, hoteliers, cruise lines, the trade press -- should immediately set about raising funds for the numerous agencies mobilizing to bring aid and comfort to the devastated region.

    It is the least we can -- and should -- do.

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