World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday that “the search and rescue phase is coming to an end. But for WHO, the life-saving work is just beginning.” Culture Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy urged those who still have homes deemed safe by the authorities to return to their homes “to start a return to normal life.”
But with over 35,000 dead and many missing in Turkey, I feel that nothing can ever return to normal. A never-ending nightmare for the Sakine family. “It’s not real,” said her niece Yasmine. “No day, no date. No time, no place, no day.”
On a patch of lawn and concrete overlooking Demir’s six-story apartment in Israhie, the family sat in chairs salvaged from the damaged home and watched the painstaking work below. Rescuers converged en masse, each focused on a specific location. Some drilled through concrete floors, others cut rebar or sifted through rubble in metal bowls.
The day before, they thought they heard voices. Rescue workers screamed for silence. engine cut. Families stretched their necks toward the site as if voices were present. But no one came. The hustle and bustle of everyday life resumed.
“You won’t find anything now,” said Ahmet Kurt, a local principal who joined the crowd in hopes of finding out the fate of his colleague who lived in the building.
After the quake, relatives of the injured and missing drifted south, jamming planes and forcing roads that were left open to a halt. Yasmin is from Iskenderun. His Hidayet, son of Sakine, came from his Gaziantep with his Elif, his third child in the family. His sister Merike is from Ankara. Their eldest brother, Arife, was the last to arrive from France with his children.
Sakine was the head of the family. Semla was the youngest child. The family dialed their cell phone multiple times, but it immediately went to answering machine.
Like all of Turkey’s worst-hit communities, life in Israel is now on the streets. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of Turks and Syrians camp in over 175,000 tents distributed by the government. Others live in their cars and pack whatever possessions they can save.
On every bad day, the Demir family took a 30-minute drive through the mountains to their home in their ancestral village. The building was off-limits until city officials checked the structure for damage, they said. So they slept in white plastic tents and cooked their meals in the cold.
“We have food, we have tents, but we can’t find relatives,” said Sakine’s older sister Medine bitterly.
On the makeshift observation deck, there was anger at the Turkish government and despair over what was lost.
Crowds clung to the early days after the earthquake when it took time for authorities to deploy rescue equipment. The family believes they could have saved more people before they succumbed to the freezing cold. Most people here knew they lived on a fault line. They feared this day would come.
Hanifi Arslanhan, a 55-year-old notary, said, “Ask my wife. I’ve been into it for years. He said he saw an amnesty program forgive the defects of poorly constructed buildings.
Residents said the first floor of the Sakine building was converted into shops and its owners removed a key pillar that held up the ceiling. When the earthquake started, her apartment collapsed from the inside and the building was smashed “like plates stacked on top of each other.”
Time and time again, the site’s survivors returned to their lost connections at random moments that saved their lives. Arslanhan, 55, lived in the building but stayed with his mother-in-law on the night of the disaster. Sakine’s husband was on dialysis for renal failure.
Some relatives had stone faces. Arife and Elihu sobbed until their shoulders trembled. They spoke of Sakine and Semla in the present tense, but their stories suggested that they knew what the rubble would reveal.
Aelif recalled that he had stopped by to see his mother a few days earlier, but had left earlier than planned. Her voice cracked. “Children were playing,” she said. Arife glanced at the debris and shook her head before looking away.
Six hours before the quake began, Sakine was texting her granddaughter Herin, a student in Paris. “I am so proud of all you have achieved,” she wrote. “But can I still tell you how much I miss you?”
Around the corner, rescue workers from the Iranian Red Crescent spent hours rescuing a man’s body from the rubble of another building. Across the country, reports of survivors have become so rare that each was reported as a breaking news story on Turkish channels.
Long waiting time for Medine. Closing her eyes for a moment, she seemed lost in the crying around her.”I can’t live anymore, I can’t recognize myself anymore,” she said. . “How do we get ourselves back? How do we find ourselves again?”
Erin O’Brien contributed to this report.