'No idea how to move forward': Victims of Turkey-Syria earthquake struggle to pick up pieces in aftermath of disaster

Several residents whose homes are still standing firm are unwilling to return to the structures in the wake of the nightmare they experienced

By SM Ayaz Zakir, Gaziantep in Turkey

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Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Published: Tue 28 Feb 2023, 1:45 PM

When a devastating earthquake besieged Turkey and Syria on February 6, residents of several towns were forced to moved out of their homes, with no idea if they would ever be able to return. They evacuated buildings, which remained in ruins, and many homes were reduced to rubble. Residents who owned houses as well as ones who rented were left in a lurch with no suitable concrete structure to reside in.

“We do not have any idea how to take our lives forward,” said victims from tents provided by the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management (AFAD), or ones they had made on their own.

These tents are either set up on open fields without any buildings around, or on streets. “The reason tents are set up in open fields is [so] that buildings which have developed cracks [do] not crumble on the makeshift tents,” said Abdul Rahman Abdi, a resident of Nurdagi town in Gaziantep.

The moment the earthquake hit the region, Abdi said, he was “in shock. All we were thinking [about] was how to save people from the buildings. When I ran out of my home, I saw many buildings crumbling down and chaos everywhere."

The government has provided two tents to Abdi’s family, and they have constructed another tent to accommodate the remaining members. “My parents, wife, four children, and my in-laws are staying with me. To accommodate [them] and have enough room for our family, we constructed another tent, and we don’t know the number of days we will have to [stay] in the tents,” said Abdi.

Another resident, Arel Aydin, describes Islahiye in Gaziantep as a ghost town now that people have migrated to other provinces. “When the earthquake struck, I was not in Islahiye. I was in another province– when I returned after five days, buildings were down on the ground and 90 per cent of the population had disappeared, [leaving just] a few scattered tents around the town, a bonfire beside the tent to keep people warm, and machines working continuously to remove debris. It was very frightening,” said Aydin.

Aydin’s home is completely devastated. "Out of all my possessions, I have a shirt, my pen, and a few toys of my son that I retrieved from the rubble,” said Aydin, mentioning that he moved to Gaziantep temporarily with these items as memories.

However, many residents whose buildings are still standing firm are unwilling to return to their homes as a result of the nightmare they experienced, and the loss of their loved ones. “Right now, we stay in tents and don’t want to move to buildings, even if it’s safe. I lost my mom to the earthquake, and that keeps [playing in] my mind,” said Atiq Abdel Aziz, a resident of Hatay.

“I don’t know what to think, what to do. I have no idea for now. I am not sure what we will do in the future, and how we will make it,” added Aziz.

Many earthquake victims are unaware whether their relatives have survived, as they're currently residing in other provinces, and their cell phones were damaged in the rubble. “I hope my relatives, residents of other provinces, are safe. I have still not gotten in touch with them,” said Aziz.

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