Survivors leave earthquake-hit homes in Turkey, unsure when they will return

Hundreds of residents are leaving Hatay province daily and setting up base in emergency accommodation arranged by the government

By Reuters

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People ride in a van in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, on Tuesday. - Reuters
People ride in a van in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, on Tuesday. - Reuters

Published: Tue 14 Feb 2023, 2:59 PM

Riza Atahan, from the southern Turkish province of Hatay, put his wife and daughter on a bus taking them to safety 300km away, then returned to his earthquake-damaged home to guard their belongings.

"I do not have a lot of expectation from this life but the lives of our children are important," he said, as his family headed to a student dormitory - emergency accommodation arranged by the government. He hopes to spare them the chaos and hardship facing Hatay in the next months.

They join the more than 158,000 people who have evacuated the vast swathe of southern Turkey devastated by the earthquake, according to government figures. Even more fled in panic immediately after the earthquake, causing traffic chaos as they looked for passable roads.

One of the deadliest tremors in Turkey's modern history has killed more than 37,000 people in Turkey and Syria. Rescuers worked through the night to rescue people clinging to life beneath the rubble eight days later, but hopes of finding many more survivors were fading on Tuesday.

Hundreds of residents are leaving Hatay province daily, unsure of whether or when they will be able to return. They gather at a plot of land on the side of the main road leading into Antakya.

Security officials take names and ask them where they want to go, then assign them to buses taking them to provinces all over Turkey, from Istanbul, a 12-hour drive north west, to Hakkari, a 12-hour drive east near the border with Iraq.


Hamza Bekry, 22, a Syrian originally from Idlib who has lived in Hatay for 12 years said he was heading west to Isparta in southern Turkey.

"Our house collapsed completely. Several of our relatives died, there are still ones under the rubble. My family went to Isparta, I am going there too, we will not return to Hatay."

"It is very hard... We will start from zero, without belongings, without a job."

Fatma Yitir has been living in a car since the earthquake.

"We do not have water, electricity. We are miserable. We are shaken and tired. We are thinking about going to Ankara. My son is there, working in a hospital. We will stay there for a while."

Atahan will not leave Antakya, however, even though the quake ripped through the walls of his home, making it unsafe.

"I will stay here to protect our home, belongings, savings we collected in 30 years," he said.

"I will not leave my hometown. I sent my child away so that they will be saved. I am from here. I love my city, I will not leave here even if it takes 3-4 years to rebuild."

As night falls on Antakya, the mass exodus of the past week is evident. A business district appears mostly empty, with soldiers and police patrolling the street with flashlights to provide security and look for looters.

Dust fills the night air, where excavators have begun tearing down heavily damaged buildings and clearing the rubble. Blue lights from ambulances light up the pitch black streets where there is still no power and the smell of smoke fills the streets.

"God bless the people who are helping us. We hope that the situation will get better, but God knows," said resident Ergin Yitir as he prepared to leave.

Asked when he thought he might return he said: "That is in fate's hands."

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