Victims of Earthquake in Turkey Recall Horrifying Ordeal
The devastating earthquake in Turkey destroyed more than just buildings, it shattered lives
(Nurdagi, Turkey) Three weeks after a devastating earthquake and powerful aftershocks hit Turkey the Baštürk family is still grieving. Their son, Osman Enes, died in the massive earthquake.
“On the night of the earthquake I was awake for the morning prayers, all my family was sleeping. When I felt the ground shaking, I woke up all of my family, my wife. But suddenly the building collapsed,” Mehmet Baštürk, a resident of one of the buildings destroyed in the temblor, told The Media Line.
He had just woken up to perform the morning prayer when the earthquake struck.
Baštürk, a retired truck driver, husband, and father of three young men, had just purchased the house he thought he would spend his golden years in with his wife, Asiye.
But only three days after he moved his family into their new first-floor apartment in Nurdagi near Gaziantep, the seven-story building came crashing down on their heads, smashing their lives into pieces.
“At first, I survived. When I went outside, I saw all the buildings collapsed. I couldn’t see my wife; it took hours to find her. I was able with visiting relatives to pull my wife from underneath the rubble,” says Baštürk.
His wife was trapped under the debris, but all she could think about were her children.
“The building collapsed suddenly on top of us. I was stuck inside. I called for my boys, and my youngest son replied. I asked him, ‘Where’s your brother?’ He said, ‘there’s no voice from him’. I told him just pinch him, maybe he blacked out,” she told The Media Line.
Baštürk recalls calling for two of his children in the rubble, but he only heard from his 15-year-old son, Amir Khan.
“I asked him ‘Where’s your brother?’ He said, ‘he’s by my side, his hand is on my shoulder right now, he’s protecting me but there’s no voice coming out of him.’”
Baštürk waited for days before his son’s body was pulled out from underneath the rubble.
“On the third day, heavy machinery started to arrive, and I showed them where he may be. It took so many times and finally, we found the corpse of my big boy,” says Baštürk.
He and his wife are trying to come to grips with their loss. His family endured days of agony before they made it out alive, but without one of their sons.
Osman Enes was born on the day the Marmara earthquake occurred 24 years ago and left 17,000 dead and died on the day of the Kahramanmaraş earthquake, whose death toll has passed 50,000.
He is buried near his family’s home.
“My boy will never come back; it’s really a huge pain. Huge pain for all of us. He was born on the day of the Marmara earthquake, and he died in this earthquake. It was the same time. He was born during morning prayer, and he died at the same time,” says Asiye.
Chairs set up in the front yard of the collapsed building outside of a tent that the family is living in since the quake were bought to receive well-wishers for Enes’ wedding scheduled for this summer, but now the grieving mother says they will be used to receive mourners.
“I prepared everything for his future, but he will never see it. I hope none of the mothers and fathers experience the feeling I’m going through right now,” she said.
A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake on February 6, and a series of strong tremors and aftershocks, devastated southeast Turkey and northwest Syria. The death toll has passed 50,000 and continues to rise.
Tens of thousands are injured and hundreds of thousands are displaced across Turkey alone.
The powerful earthquake reduced entire neighborhoods to dust.
There is almost nothing left on what was once an ordinary street in Nurdgai before last month’s earthquakes hit.
Murat, the owner of what was a furniture business in his hometown of Nurdgai, is back at his store salvaging what he can from what was once a robust, flourishing furniture store.
“We are thankfully still alive. We lost family members and friends. I’m here getting some items out of my store,” he said.
“I lost everything, but I will start from zero. I had a 500-square-meter production center. My first step is to rebuild it; after that, I will open two new branches again,” Murat told The Media Line.
He points to a frame hanging on the wall of a shop with the words, “Malik al-Mulk” written on it; it means that all possessions in life are owned by Allah.
Murat continues trying to salvage what he can, insisting that it is not the end, but the beginning.
“I want to live here. Everybody knows me and loves me; I will rise again with their support,” he said.
He now lives in a tent with his wife, three-year-old son Adam, and seven-month-old daughter Slemmariya.
“We feel safe here. I live outside my grandparents’ house. It’s hard living in a tent. It gets extremely cold at night, and we can’t sleep. I keep checking the fireplace and adding wood to it and check on my children,” says Murat.
Many streets and neighborhoods have turned into cemeteries, and many families tell the same story and have the same concerns across the vast region ravaged by earthquakes.
Shop owner Mustafa lived on the third floor of a five-story building with his wife and two children.
“I lived on the third floor. We became the first floor,” he said.
He told The Media Line that when he felt the building swaying, he feared the worst, and frantically started screaming to wake his wife and two children before the building collapsed.
“I hurried to my children’s bedroom and took them out. I couldn’t open the door outside because of the damage to it, so I went to the balcony, looked out and my neighbors were all outside, I threw my children to my neighbors; at least maybe they will survive. After that, I jumped with my wife off of the balcony. My wife broke her arm,” says Mustafa.
Mustafa’s neighbor, Fawzi, told The Media Line that a young man, a Syrian national, who lived across from him, didn’t fare well.
“My cousin and I went outside to take a look around. We saw that our retaining wall collapsed. I realized that our Syrian neighbor, who’s 18, was under the wall. He broke his leg; that day it was bitterly cold and rainy, and the area was covered with snow. It was freezing cold. We picked him up and took him to the hospital. We learned later that he died of frostbite,” Fawzi said.
These events have left many people tormented and fearful.
“Psychologically we are affected. Traumatized. We still fear further earthquakes,” says Fawzi.
In the ancient city of Antakya, one of the hardest hit areas, people are still searching for their loved ones. One woman is looking for her fiancé whose body is still missing. She has been posting his picture and information; she’s still hopeful she will find him.
Ruins are everywhere as people are still trying to make sense of what hit them.
At a camp for those made homeless by the earthquake in Nurdgai, one of the hardest hit areas, people are waiting in long lines for food.
Children find solace in playing football, laughing as they chase after the ball, a reminder of how peaceful their lives were just a few weeks ago. Even for a short moment, there is hope, a glimpse of what is again to come.
In the shadow of a behemoth excavator, the heavy construction equipment makes repetitive sounds all day and night as rubble is removed to allow the start of reconstruction.
Zeynep Uçar, originally from Gaziantep, moved to nearby Nurdgai, to be close to her family.
She lost 12 of her family members in the temblor, including two of her sister’s four children, as well as uncles and their families.
Her sister lost her husband too.
“We spend most of our time at the graveyard. We feel we are in a nightmare, but when I wake up I’m still alive and nothing has changed. It’s a difficult time for us,” Uçar, surrounded by her children and the children of other family members, told The Media Line.
Uçar says they plan to stay in Nurdgai for a few more weeks before returning to their homes.
“I’m too afraid. When anything moves, I and the kids get scared,” Uçar says.
The rebuilding process has already begun, but the devastating earthquake in Turkey destroyed more than just buildings, it shattered lives along with it too. Many of the victims say nothing will replace the void left by the loss of their loved ones.
Video production: Dario Sanchez