Türkiye: “The earthquake is not over, we are still living in tents and containers”

RS103110_Türkiye 6 months earthquake Hatay Elcin

Sarah Easter, Emergency Communications Officer CARE Germany and Austria

08 August 2023


Image: Tarek Satea/CARE

The first 90 seconds: Elcin, 38, is awake and lying in her bed with her eight-year-old daughter Elena when the house in the Turkish province Hatay starts shaking violently. Elcin calls her son’s and parents’ names who are sleeping in a different room. She tries to stand up, but it is impossible to keep her balance. Her son yells that they need to take the phone while they try and leave their apartment on the first floor. Then the electricity cuts off. It is so loud that Elcin loses her hearing temporarily.

I was so scared for my children. I have witnessed many earthquakes before, but this one was different. It was like thunder and the floor was moving in every direction. I was hugging my daughter tightly during the earthquake

Then the ceiling collapses on them. 

RS103112_Türkiye 6 months earthquake Hatay Elcin

Image: Tarek Satea/CARE

The first 12 hours: The right side of her body is trapped under the debris of the ceiling. It is completely dark, but she can still touch her daughter Elena with her left arm. “I couldn’t see anything, but I could smell the dust of the debris and it was heavy in my lungs,” remembers Elcin. Then the shaking starts again with an aftershock. “I could not hear my mother or son and didn’t know where they are when our house fell.” She is able to talk to her daughter. Elena says that she does not want to die. Elcin tries to calm her and tells her that everything is going to be fine and that they will survive.

I felt when my daughter died. We were trapped for 12 hours and then she was gone. When I was alone, I did not want to live anymore.

Even though it is completely dark, she knows the exact time it happened through listening. She can hear the morning and evening prayer calls, even though all the mosques surrounding her have also collapsed. She has no explanation for this.

Day 2: On the second day trapped under the debris she hears voices above her. She tried to call out to them, but she no longer has the strength in her voice.

The bodies of the people living on the second and third floor of my building were being found. I could hear their family members screaming when they started carrying them out.

Day 4: The days pass by in darkness. Breathing has become harder. It is cold and water drops are falling on her. Then she suddenly hears her ex-husband’s voice above her, calling her name, calling his children’s names. “He told me, that my father survived, but that they did not find my mother or son yet. At 1:13 p.m. the technical team reaches me, but I tell them to take my daughter’s body out first. I didn’t want her lying here any longer,” says Elcin. For 81 hours she has been trapped under the debris. They find the bodies of her mother and son four days later.

RS103105_Turkiye 6 months earthquake Hatay Elcin container

Image: Tarek Satea/CARE

Now, six months later: Elcin and her father live in a 7-by-2-meter container in her neighbourhood. “Life in a container is hard. It is just four white walls, but not a home. I was scared to use the public showers outside because it is dangerous for me as a woman, so I built my own shower inside the container,” says Elcin. She currently has no financial support. The newspaper she used to work for stopped publishing after the earthquake, as their building was heavily damaged.

Many say that the earthquake is over, but it is not over. We are still living in tents and containers. Going back to normal will take a long time, but even then, I won’t ever go back to normal again.

RS103103_Türkiye 6 months earthquake Hatay Elcin container2

Image: Tarek Satea/CARE

The psychological impact of the earthquake affects many who have experienced trauma, lost loved ones, or witnessed a whole city collapsing around them.

The town Elcin is living in is destroyed to the ground. The still-standing buildings are empty. Houses are still collapsing every day. Streets are blocked by the debris. Life goes on in tents and containers all around the city. Everyone who lives in this city is affected. The earthquake destroyed their homes, their workplace, their markets, and schools.

Without support, we would have nothing. Water is so crucial because water is life.

CARE has distributed water bottles and a kitchen set to Elcin and her father. Elcin opens her phone and scrolls through photos of her children. A tattoo on her right arm shows both of them with blank faces. Inked into her arm for eternity.

Everything has changed, but I want to address the mothers of lost children and hope that better days will come for us.

RS103108_Turkiye 6 months earthquake Hatay Elcin tattoo

Image: Tarek Satea/CARE

About CARE

CARE is providing much-needed assistance to those affected by the earthquake. By distributing drinking water, food, hygiene kits, kitchen utensils, and latrines, as well as providing protection services, shelter, and safe access to sanitation, thousands of people have benefited across multiple provinces in Türkiye and Syria impacted by the earthquake.

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