From rubble to recovery: Turkish mum-of-two, family arrive in UAE to recover from trauma of earthquake

Rescuers had to cut through walls to extricate former Abu Dhabi resident and children from their third-floor apartment


Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Wed 8 Mar 2023, 5:10 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Mar 2023, 7:27 PM

Former Abu Dhabi resident Afra’s two young children don’t allow her to close their bedroom door now because they are scared it will never open. The trio were among hundreds of thousands caught in the devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria last month and killed over 50,000 while causing damages worth millions of dirhams.

The children are still traumatised by how rescuers had to cut through walls to get to them.

Residents of the Turkish city of Antakya, Afra, her 6-year-old son Ali and her 3-year-old daughter Layaan were stuck for a little more than an hour before neighbours came to rescue them.

Now in Abu Dhabi to recuperate with her parents and sisters, Afra still remembers the moment she woke up to the horror. “It was around 4:30 in the morning,” she said.

“My children were sleeping next to me. Suddenly the building started to shake violently and I felt something fall on me. I was trying to protect the children.”

Afra was located on the third floor of a 5-storey building. The ground floor swimming pool was the first structure to break and caused the entire building to be lopsided.

At the time, Afra’s priority was to get her children to safety. “I started screaming loudly,” she recalled. Her husband Jamil was not at home because he worked in a town near Syria’s Idlib, an 8-hour drive away from their place of residence. Luckily for Afra, some neighbours heard her screaming and came to rescue her.

However, their doors were locked and refused to budge. Eventually, the rescuers used tools to break open the wall to get to them. “When they came in, I asked them to save my children first,” she said. They cleared the rubble and took the kids out before coming back for her. The entire neighbourhood had suffered several damages.

Two days in the car

Once rescued, Afra was in pain. “I didn’t know what had happened, but my entire body was aching,” she said. “I thought it was from the furniture falling on me and thought it would get better after a few days.”

By then, her panic-stricken husband had returned to be with them. The family spent the next two days in their car. At this point, Afra’s managed to get into her house to grab some essentials but it was severely damaged.

By the second day of the quake, she could not tolerate her pain. “I knew something was wrong,” she said. “I needed to get to the hospital.”

Jamil drove the family to Istanbul in an agonising 19-hour drive. They reached there on February 10 following which Afra was admitted to the hospital where a quick scan showed that her ribs had been broken in five places and had perforated her lungs, causing internal bleeding. “I was told that I had to have immediate surgery,” she said. “But I was thankful that my children were safe.”

After the surgery, Afra spent five days in the hospital. Mentally and physically scarred, the family decided to travel to Abu Dhabi to be with Afra’s family while they recuperated.


According to Afra’s sister Ola, the family took her and the kids for a full check up here and they seem to be healing well physically. But she admitted that it would be a while before they recovered from the shock.

“Most of Afra’s neighbours and friends died in the quake,” she said. “Some days are hard for her, but she doesn’t really like talking about it. We are incredibly grateful to Allah that she and the kids are safe, and they are with us. We are doing everything we can to make them feel comfortable here.”

As per Ola’s estimation, it could be months before Antakya gets back on its feet. “Everything is shut, and restoration work is ongoing,” she said.

“But I think it could at least 3-6 months before schools and businesses reopen. There are still several people missing and bodies to be recovered.”


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