You are here

Earthquake: Two days in Antakya

Image By Adem - File:Aerial View of the Hatay Province in Turkey on WikipediaThis article is part of keeping up with the humanitarian and political consequences of the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey at the dawn of February 6th. I am writing this content more than three weeks after the earthquake in Syria and Turkey. Throughout these weeks, whenever I begged myself to sleep, a series of images, scenes, and moments I experienced during the earthquake in Turkey flashed through my head. Sometimes, they all overlap in my head at once, so I can't separate them, or suddenly one of them jumps out without the other, repeating itself dozens of times. In some of them, faces and people are absent and their voice remains, or their voice is absent and their images remain, and in others, voices and faces are cut off. And in miserable times I tried to deceive the cruelest of them to beautify it, to banish it, to make it only a nightmare, and I failed, got up, and had a severe headache.

Will I die today?

The place: a small room in an old house consisting of three floors in the Mazrlik neighborhood in Antakya. The time: at dawn on Monday, February 6, 2023, at 4.17 am.

My bed shakes, and I wake up, it's not a fleeting little shake that Antakya is used to from time to time, I tell myself. The tremor intensifies, it's an earthquake, I get it. I quickly stand under (the door lintel ) the door of my room, knowing in advance that standing under the doors is a safe place during an earthquake. The earth does not stop shaking and becomes more intense, so I rush out of my room towards (the yard) of the house in front of it, I fall, swaying right and left, with difficulty getting up, and the shaking becomes more violent, will I die today? I talk to myself, and my neighbor Fatima and her husband, who live on the first floor of the house, come to my mind. I scream" Fatima Fatima" I see her and her husband go out to the (yard) of the house, without covering her head screaming like crazy, then I see my neighbor, his wife, and two daughters who live on the second floor, and the young daughter of the owner of the Turkish house “Dilay” who lives on the third floor, they all go down to the yard of the house, all of us Fine, we hold each other and go out into the street, the ground is still shaking, we all stand up and I embrace Dilay.

The electricity is completely cut off at a time when the earth has calmed down a bit. I looked in the darkness, right and left, to see that the entire building opposite our house had fallen on our building, so the wall of my room overlooking the entire street collapsed. but It doesn't matter now.

Our neighbor's son was crying out: "People, I want a light, any light, my mother is under the rubble." I leave Dilay and, not knowing what force struck me, re-enter what remains of the ruins of my room. I found my cell phone still intact, I pulled it out and ran towards the neighbor's son, handing it to him to use its light to search for his mother, who managed to pull her out.

Parking lot

It is raining heavily, the surviving residents of my neighborhood are all in the street screaming, chaos is raging, and the Arabic language is mixing with the Turkish language until I no longer understand a thing. My neighbor Fatima starts to faint and asks her husband to put something on her head. He scolds her: "Now is not the time to cover your head." The ground is shaking again, and one of the survivors says: "Let everyone head towards the square behind the lane, perhaps a new tremor will occur." I, my neighbor, his wife, his two children, Dilay, and my neighbor Fatima, whose husband managed to bring a covering for her head, walk towards the square behind our neighborhood, I see the houses collapsing, I glimpse in the darkness of men, women, and children rushing towards the square in their light pajamas, some of them barefoot, some of them wearing slippers, I am one of them, I wear plastic slippers.

The scene of the square about an hour after the earthquake occurred, if you wanted to photograph it from above, was as follows: hundreds of Syrians and Turks living in slums near the square gathered, we stood in groups under heavy rain and sub-zero temperature, some men brought wood and lit a fire They brought it from their homes in a bucket. They also found a large waste container in the square. They emptied it, filled it with firewood, and set it on fire so that several Syrians and Turks gathered around it. Some people wrapped themselves in blankets, while others carried umbrellas that they had brought from their homes. Some families had their children in covers and blankets and left their affairs to the rain and cold, while others sat in their cars, which were previously parked in the square. To an internal transport bus operated by a Turkish driver, the driver opened the bus and Turkish and Syrian women and children entered to protect themselves from the cold and rain.

People's voices calm down a little, the earth continues to shake less violently, and everyone becomes busy searching on their mobile phones for a signal, to reassure their family and friends, or to be reassured about them, everyone asks: “Is their coverage, has the Internet been cut off?”, I had sent a message. Through the WhatsApp application to my family half an hour ago, I wrote: “I am fine,” after which the Internet and the call signal disappeared from my phone.

Fatima, her husband, Dilay, and I huddled around a bucket in which we lit a fire under a nylon bag we had placed over us, hoping that it would ward off some of the heavy rain. We told each other that we were fine, and we, Fatima and I, tried to gather all the vocabulary we know in Turkish to tell Dilay how we lived the same horror in Syria during the bombing, and we add that we witnessed the destruction of our homes as the earthquake did here.

Waiting for the morning and sitting out in the rain was everyone's decision, the ground was still ominous. Everyone was busy rushing the time until the morning.

Disaster morning

In the morning, Fatima says to me: “I no longer feel my feet, I am freezing.” I reply Me too. I stand up; I feel my body stiff and my heart almost stopping from the cold, as the sleeping pajamas I am wearing have been soaked from rainwater. I move my feet and walk, taking advantage of the stopped rain, and I hear wailing sounds coming from the alleys. Fatima's husband says: “People are starting to lose their loved ones under the rubble,” he said, and his eyes are red, and about to cry. Before the morning came, he went to check on his brother and his family who live in a neighborhood close to ours, and he told Fatima after his return: I called all of their names, but none of them answered me, Fatima.

Because they live on the ground floor, Lord, their building is wrapped and destroyed, its seven floors are folded like the pages of a folded notebook, oh Fatima.

Yes, like the pages of a folded notebook, there were some buildings. I saw them while I was walking between the lanes near the square in the morning. Most old buildings, like our homes, have been destroyed. Some buildings have been tilted towards the right or the left. There are buildings whose first floors have been destroyed and others whose walls have cracked.

As for the Syrian and Turkish residents of the neighborhood and other neighborhoods, they were hysterical in the morning, running and telling each other about the conditions of their acquaintances and relatives in the other neighborhoods. I did not understand the Turkish language well enough, but our Syrian neighbors who were beside us said that Abu Ibrahim lost all his family members, I did not know who Abu Ibrahim was. I saw Turkish women crying so much in the house next to the square, one of them fell on the ground and was picked up by a man.

“Where is the ambulance, where are the civil defense teams?” One of the Syrian men standing in the square shouts, and another replies, “Most of the streets are closed due to the collapse of the houses. They may be late in reaching us and the people under the rubble.”

Whining, Screaming, Helplessness

The sky clears up a bit, and everyone asks God for the sun to shine, so that they may feel warm or put their clothes back in a better way, and so that many of them can find their families, friends, and loved ones under the rubble. I look at my phone to find that it is almost ten o'clock in the morning. I walk towards a lane to the left of the square in search of a place to relieve myself, then I see a house to the right of the lane that the earthquake has leveled like the pages of a notebook, Turkish men gather near it trying to pull a man out from under the rubble, I could hear his moaning and saw a half of his body under the rubble; I became dumbfounded.

After two or three houses, I see a building to the right of the alley as well. This is how it is in Antakya, especially the Al-Mazrlik neighborhood, in which old buildings' floors and multi-story buildings stand side by side. I hear the voice of a young girl crying out in Turkish (Anne, Anne), which means “my mother, my mother” in Turkish. I stood for a while to see two women looking at the basement of the building, the place where the girl's voice came from. One of them was talking to the girl in a tone full of panic, she used her hands a lot as if she was referring to the girl to do something. A young man approached the two women and spoke to them in Turkish in a loud and sad tone of voice, then the woman sat on the ground and started crying hard, and the young man tried to calm her down.

On the opposite side of this scene, several men and women gathered in front of a destroyed house. One of them said in the Arabic dialect of the people of Antakya: “We must cooperate to get those under the rubble out. It seems that the rescue teams will not come today.” I said to myself: Yes, the truth is with him, why did people not form civil action groups until this moment? Why do most people look paralyzed? So I reply to myself while watching the scale of the destruction around me: Perhaps they have not yet awakened from their shock. It seems that I also did not wake up from the shock, I also feel paralyzed in front of the horror of the many scenes.

“Hold on for a while, I will get you out of here,” a Syrian young man used to say to one of the women in a house to the left of the alley, his voice was very sad. I walked quickly, trying to pass this scene. I am losing my energy, Lord, I used to say to myself, and I went back to my place with Fatima, her husband, and Dilay after I relieved myself on the ground floor of one of the buildings whose walls were cracked. I am overwhelmed with sadness, and a bitter cold began to eat my feet and my loin and even knock on my head.

The longest night of my entire life.

Fatima asks me after I get back if I'm willing to go with her to our house to change her clothes and get a dry blanket, and I tell her we have to go and come back quickly because the aftershocks haven't stopped yet. My neighborhood is a slum, popular neighborhood, in which there are no tall buildings, but rather old structured houses, the top of which consists of three floors, inhabited by Turks who speak the Arabic language in the majority, and Syrian tenants who preferred to live there because the rents are low. When we arrived at the house, the wall of my room overlooking the alley had collapsed, as had part of the wall overlooking a clearing behind the house. My locker fell, forming a triangle with my bed, which enabled me to pull out a bag in which I put my university degree and identification papers, as well as my handbag in which I put (such as my property/Turkish ID). As for Fatima, she took a risk and entered her house, changed her clothes quickly, and was able to reach a bundle of bread in her kitchen, and we were able to bring a blanket and another blanket of wool to keep warm with it during the night, as we were sure that neither the civil defense nor the rescue teams would enter today.

At about one o'clock in the afternoon, the sky became cloudy, and we heard a strong thunder, the earth began to shake, and most of the people in the square started shouting: “God is great, God is great.” I had a feeling that the earth would open up and swallow us all. I separated myself and felt nothing but panic. They were seconds that I did not know how many until the earth stopped, and the rain fell heavily after that. I literally couldn't move my feet one step to sit under the cover we had installed, it took me more than ten minutes to comprehend what was happening.

Shortly after the sunset, we lost hope that someone would come to help, we also lost feeling in our limbs from the cold, and we began to prepare for another night in the square with the others in the rain. Meanwhile, Fatima's husband was trying to keep the fire burning, hoping that the nylon bag and tarpaulin he had placed over us would withstand the pouring rain. We all gathered again around the (pail) of fire except for Dilay, her parents had come to take her with them to their Altanuz estate. “Let's take a selfie,” I say to Fatima and her husband, and they laugh and agree. We were trying to console each other and thank God that we are still alive, especially since we were constantly hearing about a neighbor who lost his family, or about entire families that are still under the rubble.

Next to us, Syrians set up a large awning, in which many children, women, and men sat, apparently from one family. I heard two young men say: “Antakya is destroyed.” I asked them if they could go out and find out the situation in Antakya. One of them answered me: “Yes, the Aleppo market is destroyed, and the commercial centers, mosques, and all the buildings on both sides of the main street of Al-Mazrlak are destroyed. All of Antakya is destroyed.”

We eat the bread that Fatima brought from home, and our mobile phones turn off, as they run out of charge basically, its presence or absence is the same in the absence of the entire transmission network with the onset of darkness., we tried to stick to the bucket of fire to the point that I wanted to sit in it, especially since my clothes were very wet due to the rain. Fatima's husband was disappointed in the steadfastness of the cover over our heads, which began to collapse due to the heavy rain, so he asked Fatima and me to get on the bus and spend the night on it until the morning when he decided to take his motorbike out of the house so that we would leave with it to the estate of his Turkish brother-in-law in the morning.

I slept sitting on the floor of the bus in the narrow space between the chairs, I was not alone in that space, there were Syrian and Turkish girls and boys, we slept closely together, and Fatima slept next to me.

I was not very bothered by the feet of children, women, and men who were pushing or (kicking) me, intentionally or unintentionally, while they passed over me or exchanged seats among themselves or with other people who entered the bus. I closed my eyes firmly, indifferent to their feet, consoling myself that I would leave the place tomorrow, and I am sure that night was the longest night of my whole life.

Goodbye AN…..

As if someone gets out of prison; Fatima and I got off the bus at about six in the morning. We did not find her husband as soon as we left, so Fatima went to look for him while I stood in front of the container in which the fire was lit, because it was very cold. A sixty-year-old Syrian man was eating bread next to the container. He had not left his place near the container since the first night of the earthquake. He brought a chair and sat next to the container carrying his umbrella. His face was stained with blood as a result of a stone falling on his head while he was escaping with his family from his house, and his face was severely injured... I was watching him when he refused his daughter and her husband's request to enter with them into the remains of their house overlooking the square, to spend the first and second nights and to protect themselves from rain and cold.

“Go ahead, eat a piece of this bread,” he told me.

“I'm not hungry, thank you,” I replied.

“Eat it, eat it, so you can still have energy,” he insisted.

The second earthquake brought down a large number of houses and buildings that were cracked due to the first earthquake, so the amount of rubble increased over the people stuck under the rubble. Fatima and I went back to the house again to bring pieces of clothes and things to take with us to the town, and we found that the entrance and wall of the house had been completely demolished. We also noticed that the balconies of the second floor had collapsed, and the cracks in the walls increased in my room and Fatima’s house. A woolen jumper, pants, and a woolen shawl are what I just brought from my room. I put the scarf in my bag, and Fatima and I crossed the rubble to reach the main street of cars, where Fatima's husband was waiting for us with his motorbike, which he passed with great difficulty over the rubble. Before we left, we had a conversation with our neighbor, Umm Youssef, who is of Syrian origin and has been married to a Turkish man for more than 40 years, whose house had been destroyed.

- “Where are you going, to Syria?” Umm Youssef asks us.

“To my brother-in-law’s estate,” Fatima replies.

“Go back to Syria, it's better for you, there is no place for you in Turkey anymore,” Umm Youssef smiles as she tells us that.

I did not know the intent behind Umm Youssef's words, was her motive racist? Or did the scale of destruction and catastrophe make her believe that the Syrians have lost their homes and jobs and that they no longer have a place in Turkey, so Syria, according to her belief, will be better for them? Or was what she said without intention or motive?

The main street in Al-Mazrlak was very crowded with cars and people. For a moment, you feel that everyone does not know where to go. There is noise and chaos, and dilapidated buildings on both sides of the street, and the municipality’s bulldozers are striving to clean it from the rubble. I saw many crying eyes, and children wearing slippers and light clothes, running carrying nylon bags filled with canned goods, biscuits, and juices, which they took from the shops and commercial complexes that were destroyed and whose goods are in the streets. It was not just children, but many women and men who used to go into clothing stores, electrical parts stores, or other stores that were destroyed by the earthquake, and carry what they could of their belongings. What a paradox that is,? Within seconds, the earthquake demolished what we had built and acquired over the years, and we, our purposes, and our things became mere rubble. How can humans quickly reproduce and acquire these materials? One of the men was carrying a fan. He took it from a store. I gasped in surprise and said to Fatima: What a crazy man, a fan! What will he do with it?

The face of the young Syrian man who owned the shop from which I used to buy smuggled smoke was aching. He was wearing a light cotton shirt and leather shoes. His eyes were droopy, as was his smile. He was standing and looking as I was looking at the crowds of men and women who were jostling in front of a sportswear store whose facade had been destroyed by the earthquake, each carrying what he could carry of pants, pajamas, and sneakers. I wanted to approach him and ask him: Have you lost anyone in your family? But he got lost in the crowd, and I was separated from him by the voice of Fatima's husband, who told us to hurry up to get on the motorcycle.

The three of us got stuck on top of the motorcycle, and Fatima's husband asked us not to make any movement during the trip so that we wouldn't all fall off the bike.

I know most of the streets and alleys of Antakya by heart, I walked all of them before the earthquake on my feet: Oufouk Petrol, Zubaydah Hanim Street, Ekunji neighborhood, Dawlet Hospital Street, and Dafni Road, all of them, with their buildings, floors, and homes were destroyed. My feet hurt and I feel as if they were paralyzed, not because I sat on the motorcycle that passed us in these streets or near it, but because of my errant soul in those streets, which searched for the faces I knew here: “Nahed and her daughters, Ihab and his friends, Mona and her family, Ahlam and her two children, Bodour and her daughter, many, many.” I would like to go down and check on them one by one. I sent them WhatsApp and text messages from my phone when it picked up a wireless signal, but I haven't heard anything from them, and my phone is dead and turned off.

Before we left Antakya towards Karkhan, I saw a residential complex called the 600 complexes, which was known to be upscale, and newly built: “Oh, look at the 600 residential, there is no proper intact building.” Fatima points to me and her husband to see the extent of the destruction of the residential area. At the entrance to Antakya from the side of Karkhan Road, in the middle of the road, the municipality placed the word (ANTAKYA) in large letters. When we reached it, only two letters (AN) remained of the word, while the rest of the letters were dropped. Yes, only a few are left of you, ANTAKYA. Farewell (AN) I say to myself, and my old anxiety comes back to me: Where am I going? Where will I belong? Will I ever be able to feel stability? and the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who used to live in earthquake-ravaged areas in Antakya and elsewhere?

Written by: AMAL ALSALAMAT. Edited and translated by: Qassem Alsalamat.

From Aljumhuria