Wedding albums, house keys: UAE rescuers uncover memories from Turkey quake rubble, save them for residents

Residents who have relocated to nearby provinces often visit their homes in ruins, searching through the debris in the hopes of finding valuable belongings

By Text: SM Ayaz Zakir from Gaziantep in Turkey, Visuals: Neeraj Murali

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Published: Mon 20 Feb 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 20 Feb 2023, 8:15 PM

Here is a look at Islahiye and Nurdagi — or what is left of the two towns in the Gaziantep province, after a deadly earthquake hit Turkey on the fateful morning of February 6. The 7.8-magnitude tremblor that struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria has killed more than 46,000 people, and the toll is only expected to soar higher.

The video was shot by Khaleej Times journalists on the ground and documents the devastation left behind by the quake: where concrete houses once stood, they now lie demolished and crumbled to dust.


Residents of the two towns have left their damaged or destroyed homes, migrating temporarily to safer provinces in the country. According to an Islahiye resident, the town's population was nearly 70,000 before the quake. It has now been reduced to approximately one-tenth of its previous strength: only about 6,000 people remain.

Of those left, many do not live in their homes any more but in makeshift tents provided by Turkish health authorities and the local Red Crescent Society.

The ministry said Sunday that some 105,794 buildings checked by Turkey's Environment and Urbanisation Ministry have been either destroyed or are so badly damaged that they would require demolition. Of these, 20,662 had collapsed, the statement said. The damaged or destroyed buildings contained more than 384,500 units, mostly residential apartments.

Emotions left behind

As the search and rescue effort for buried survivors starts to wind down in Turkey, teams are still working to clear the rubble. While working through the mounds of concrete, they find items like wedding albums that belonged to those who lost their lives or remain unaccounted for in the disaster.

With utmost respect, the items that remained as a semblance of their life before Feb 6 are being kept safe for the loved ones who may return to search for them.

These photos below show a child's toy scooter extracted from a demolished building in Nurdagi, a photo frame, books, strewn shoes and keys to homes that no longer exist.

Returning for the memories

Although their homes lie in ruins, residents of Islahiye, who have relocated to nearby provinces, have been visiting often. They search through the debris of their homes, hoping to find valuable belongings. Many of these houses have been reduced to rubble, while other structures have developed dangerous cracks, rendering them uninhabitable.

Huseyin, who has moved to Gaziantep City temporarily, visits his home once every two days, hoping to find his graduation degree, wedding clothes, and a few more things dear to him.

“As the building structure is fragile and my bedroom has been destroyed, I cannot move any object. I take the help of rescue personnel. I come here hoping that the authorities will clear the rubble and I can find my belongings,” he says.

Recovery operations still underway

Based on reports from volunteers and rescue personnel, the town of Nurdagi was the most affected by the earthquake. Volunteers have reported that several buildings in the town have been flattened, resulting in numerous casualties. Despite the rescue efforts, many people are still reported missing.

Mehmet Yovilic, a resident of Nurdagi and a firefighter who lost his uncle, aunt, and cousins, is still in shock. But despite his grief, he is on his toes to volunteer in the rescue operations.

"I have grown up with my cousins. They were the first friends in my life. We were together the last night on a drive. When the earthquake struck, we all managed to escape and move to a safer place," said Yovilic.

"I rang my cousin's phone and got no response. It was the beginning of the horror for me. When I reached their place in the morning at around 9am, the place was reduced to rubble," added Yovilic.

Being a firefighter, Yovilic has volunteered in the rescue operation since Day 1, rescued six people, and recovered a few bodies from the rubble. He pledges to continue supporting the authorities in moving toward recovery.

Taking turns to rest in tents

Temperatures in Islahiye are freezing at night, with the mercury dipping below 0°C, but they become more favourable during the day. Residents who have not relocated to other provinces are taking turns sleeping in tents to stay warm and continue with their daily routines.

Other family members stay outside to carry out tasks like cooking food and washing clothes. Their worlds have crumbled around them, but life goes on.


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