‘I thought I was going to die’: the suffering of survivors of the earthquake in Turkey | News about the earthquake in Turkey and Syria

Osmaniye, Turkey – Rescuers are still pulling people alive from the rubble nine days after the earthquake struck Turkey, although many operations in the 10 affected provinces are mostly focused on recovering bodies.

At the state hospital in Osmaniye, southern Turkey, some survivors spoke of the horror of being trapped beneath their collapsed homes and even offered a glimpse of what life might bring them next.

Gulhan Vişne, 17, high school student

“At first I didn’t understand what was happening. I ran for the door to escape the building, and in that second, our one-story building collapsed on top of us. [Gülhan and her mother, Özlem]. A wardrobe fell and crushed my ankle.

I thought I was going to die, that it was impossible to get out. There was very little space, there was a lot of dust and it was really hard to breathe, I’m still coughing because the dust was scratching my lungs.

I could hear my mother yelling, ‘girl! my daughter! [my girl! my girl!] Where are you?’. I shouted too, but my mother couldn’t hear me because I was trapped quite deep in the building. I hit the door with a stone to make noise.

At first, no one could reach me because the earthquakes continued, people were in shock, and only my mother tried to help me. Even with broken ribs, she was trying to pull me out of a hole that even a cat couldn’t get through.

In the end, more relatives and rescuers came to help. There was no light, only the light from my phone – the rescuers shined a flashlight to make me feel better because the darkness made me afraid. I felt like years below. I thought about my mother, because she has cancer and I was worried about her.

They [the rescuers] they couldn’t get the rubble off me, so they dug a really small tunnel, but my leg got stuck.

I was trying to motivate myself – you said ‘you almost made it’ – but I passed out three or four times in that hour. But I didn’t have time to panic, I was just trying to describe the situation and help the rescuers – ‘remove that rock, move that cupboard, take out that door’. I was trying to issue orders. It was so serious that I couldn’t panic. I was the only one who could describe how stuck I was.

They found a saw to cut out the closet to save me. I was there for about four hours, I was in a lot of pain, every time they touched me I was in agony.

The police came and took me to different hospitals, but they collapsed – maybe three or four hospitals – and I ended up here.

My ankle and collarbone were broken, and I also broke a few ribs. I will have surgery on my ankle when the swelling goes down because the bone is crushed. They’re going to put in some plates and screws. But my phone didn’t get a scratch [laughs].

Aftershocks continue several times a day. I feel like a big earthquake is going to happen again, so I’m afraid.

We are planning to move to Konya [in central Turkey] after I leave the hospital. There, my father rented us a house, because most of the places here were damaged.

I was born in Kahmaranmaras, but I grew up in Osmaniye. It will be very hard to leave. I’m in the last year of high school. My family, my friends, they are here. My aunt is in Konya and we are going there because it is not in an earthquake area.

I want to go to college and become a kindergarten teacher, I love children.

But all plans are currently on hold.”

[Courtesy of Vişne family]
[Courtesy of Vişne family]

Özlem Vişne, 37, Gülhan’s mother, a supermarket worker

“When [the earthquake] happened, there was a door behind me. I broke the door with a rock and saw some light. I dug myself a little and shouted to the neighbors ‘please help’, but they were also distraught. Later the aftershock moved some debris and I had a chance to get out.

I was trying to shout with broken ribs and find my daughter. As parents, we don’t worry about ourselves, we worry about our children.

The hospital sent us away with broken bones the first two days, because it was chaotic here. My brother drives the school bus. So we stayed at it, and the aftershocks went on and on [starts crying].

I can’t sleep, even though I take pills. I have a hard time entering buildings, I usually wait in front of the hospital. When I want to fall asleep and close my eyes, I just hear my daughter’s voice screaming for help.

Dust and dirt are still stuck in my ear.

Our building was a rental property. We just moved in a few months ago and I bought everything new for it with a bank loan because I’m going through a divorce. We didn’t manage to save anything, and I owe about 20,000 Turkish lira [$1,060].

I work in a supermarket but I am also being treated for breast cancer. I have to work to support my children [her son was away in Bursa staying with his father when the quake happened], even then I have no money. It’s so hard, but you have to act like you’re fine and try to hide your true mental and physical state.

We haven’t received any psychological support yet. And the financial support of the state is not enough – they will only give us 2,000 lira [$106, per month] for rent support – that is not enough.

Politicians just walk through the hospital and say ‘geçmiş olsun’ [get well soon]’, took a few pictures and left. They don’t ask how we are. Just to show off. They don’t care about us.

We will start again from scratch in Konya. It is difficult to live as a single woman in Konya [a very conservative city]. I worry about finding a job, I worry about finding a good neighborhood, I’m so worried about the future.”

Marut Babaoglu, 26, car mechanic. [Patrick Keddie/Al Jazeera]
Marut Babaoglu [Patrick Keddie/Al Jazeera]

Marut Babaoglu, 26, car mechanic

“I was awake when the earthquake happened, I ran down the stairs of the building – I was on the fifth floor, there are eight floors in total. I got between the second and third floors, then the building collapsed and I was stuck under the rubble in the stairwell. I was in a large enough space that I could turn around and move a little, but my arm was stuck. It was pitch dark.

When the aftershocks happened, the stairs moved a little, and I freed my hand. I just slept, woke up, slept, that’s all. My head was lower than my feet, kind of head first down the stairs, and my legs were numb because all the blood had gone to my head.

After more than three days I had to drink my own urine. I was so thirsty that I peed in my shoe and drank from it. After a while, my body stopped accepting urine, I vomited.

Eventually I heard construction machinery, but for a while I couldn’t hear human voices.

I listened to the machines, the noise was getting louder little by little and it was driving me. My life flowed before me like a movie. I thought about all of that.

When I heard voices, I started whistling. It lasted 12 hours [from him hearing them] to answer me.

They made a tunnel from the top of the collapsed building to get to me and pull me out.

While they were making the tunnel, they made a string and lowered the medicine. I felt heavier, so I don’t remember much after that. I was looking for salgam [sour spicy purple carrot juice, popular in the region] and water, but they gave me intravenously.

Firefighters from Balikesir [a city in northern Turkey] saved me. They discovered me during the day and they rescued me for nine hours, and when I was rescued it was night. I was saved on the fourth day.

I was in intensive care when I opened my eyes. Everyone who worked there was very excited when I opened my eyes. I was in shock, but people were cheering.

I had to have surgery on my arm and hurt my elbow, but I don’t have any broken bones. When my arm got stuck, the blood didn’t reach my fingers, so my movement is limited, but it’s getting better. I might need physiotherapy, we’ll see.

But after I was rescued, I was told that my mother, father and brother had died in the wreck.

They are considered martyrs in Islam – so I am comforted that they will go to heaven.

Basically, I’m fine. The only thing I don’t think I can live in [similar] rebuilding.

There is no need for psychological support. Two days in a row, several guys came to offer psychological support, but I didn’t want to talk.

Now, I don’t have them [definite plan] but I want to go to Balikesir. The rescue team invited me to come there and work with them. So I’m thinking about starting a new life in Balikesir.

[After this experience] I am closer to God, material things are not important, and people are more important to me now. I understand that death is so close, close as your nose. It can happen anytime.

[Interviews edited and condensed for clarity.]

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