Ahmet Erkan was awakened in the early hours of February 6 by the first shocks of the earthquake and could not initially comprehend what was occurring. The screams of his three daughters in their bedrooms prompted him and his wife Fatma to take action.
“My kids started shouting. The shaking was rather intense. We were at a loss for what to do,” Ahmet remarked. Fatma said, “The earthquake knocked us to the ground, and we were hardly able to walk. It lasted so long. I am thankful we were able to escape.”
Minutes later, when they stood on the street in front of their apartment building in Hatay, southern Turkey, their immediate relief changed to terror as they witnessed the entire structure crumble into debris.
“Screams emanated from all directions. There were individuals weeping. Those who were able to escape the collapsing structure attempted to rescue others still inside,” Ahmet recounts.
Ahmet knew how desperate their position was when they had no time to even put on shoes before abandoning their house. “I did not know what to do or how to safeguard my children. It was really chilly and rained heavily. We became drenched,” he stated.
Yet when Ahmet discovered that his brother Mustafa’s adjacent building had also collapsed, their own predicament was forgotten. “I am unable to articulate how I felt at that time. I abandoned my wife and children in the car and went to my brother’s residence. The structure was in ruins upon our arrival. We tried very hard…” Ahmet was assisted by a rescue squad in his desperate attempts to reach Mustafa, 35, and his family. His brother’s wife and children were rescued from the debris, but Mustafa and his 11-year-old son Tahir sadly perished in the collapse.
Surrounded by his family – including his mother, elder sister, and her children, who miraculously survived – Ahmet brings up on his phone a black-and-white photo taken by Mustafa, which features Tahir curled next to him in the woods.
“Now, we are still attempting to comprehend what we are experiencing; we have nothing left. Today there is only the now,” explains Ahmet.
The anguish and loss seen on the faces of Ahmet and his family are shared by millions of people in southern Turkey and northern Syria devastated by terrible earthquakes last month. More than 55,000 deaths have been verified in the two nations, and many thousands more are still missing.
Several survivors have been rendered homeless or are too traumatized to return home. 1.74 million Syrian refugees are among the 15 million people residing in the 11 earthquake-devastated regions of southern Turkey. Yet the damage and death have hit every neighborhood, leaving entire cities and villages in ruins.
Ahmet and his family are residing in one of the Temporary Housing Facilities in Hatay, which were initially constructed to house Syrian refugees but are now being utilized to house both Turkish and Syrian earthquake survivors. Having lost everything, they are fortunate to reside in one of the two-story rows of family-sized prefabricated containers.