A year after a devastating earthquake, Turkey tries to rebuild

0 4

From a mountainside rising above Antakya, in southern Turkey, a panoramic view of the ancient city at sunrise reveals a place that is a shell of its former self. Gaps where hundreds of buildings once stood dominate the landscape. The remaining buildings, empty and cracked, are just out of the ground, waiting to be demolished.

It has been a year since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria. It was followed later in the day by another, with a magnitude of 7.5.

More than 52,000 people were killed. Hundreds are still missing, and 11 of the 17 provinces in southern Turkey have been declared disaster zones.

At least 4 million buildings were damaged or destroyed. The Hatay region suffered the worst damage.

People pick what’s left for scrap metal or valuables to sell, in a place where the economy is also destroyed. Almost all shops, as well as banks, bakeries and restaurants have been moved to containers, which are located along main roads. Families also live in tents or containers, with no idea when they could return to their homes.

Still looking for the missing ones

In nearby Iskenderun, Sema Gulec said that she looks for her son’s face in everyone she passes on the street. An architect, Batuhan, who was 25, was in his apartment the night of the earthquake. “We have so many questions in our heads. What happened to him? For almost a year we have been without closure. All the days and nights are the same,” she said.

Gulec is the secretary of the Association for Solidarity with Earthquake Victims and Lost Relatives (DEMAK), which was established 10 months ago for families who continue to search for their loved ones. At least 145 people are listed by DEMAK as missing in 11 cities affected by the earthquakes. Many others are unaccounted for. The Turkish government does not publish official numbers of what is missing.

A crane works at a demolition site in Iskenderun, Turkey on January 25 nearly a year since a devastating earthquake that killed more than 52,000 people. (Video: Nicole Tung for The Washington Post)

Waiting for better shelter

On a recent morning, freezing rain blew away the tarp of Sevcan Turk’s tent, which is located on a plot of land where at least 15 other families lived. A mother of three teenagers, Turk had planted a small garden in front of her tent using discarded yoghurt tubs. “Our psychological situation is nothing but a mess now; with every small earthquake, we panic. I saw so many dead bodies in the days after the earthquake. There was so much destruction; we also feared for our safety. So I started gardening to de-stress a little,” Turk said.

She is waiting for a ship from the government. On the night of the earthquake, her house, which is at the bottom of a mountain, was damaged by falling rocks. Her mother-in-law barely survived.

Turk expressed that she was increasingly frustrated by the lack of support for those still living in tents. “We didn’t get any government support. Only volunteers helped us. We see so much fundraising in Antakya, enough to build another city – but we haven’t seen any of that help. No cash cards for supermarkets, just a small hygiene kit that arrived a month ago,” she said.

Life more difficult for Syrian refugees

Near Turk, another family went into their tent to stay warm and out of the rain. The Al Omar family arrived from Hama, Syria, seven years ago. “Life after the earthquakes has just become more challenging,” said Mustafa Al Omar, who shares the tent with his wife, Sama, and their five children. For Syrian refugees in Turkey who have been sent torn apart by the earthquake, their needs are often secondary to Turkish citizens, but the Omar family tried to be positive. “There is no better situation than this tent camp. We will not get support, but we hope to get a vessel soon,” said Omar.

At another tent camp where dozens of Syrian families and a few Turks lived, toxic waste water ran through walkways. Toilets were few and far between. Recently the landlord, who allowed the displaced people to use the land after the earthquake for temporary shelter, demanded that all the families leave the plot.

At a cemetery for earthquake victims on the road into Antakya, there were hundreds of graves on the side of a mountain. Ahmed Barbour, 20, was visiting his father’s grave with his brother and a friend. Verses from the Quran played from his phone as he knelt by the grave, his face solemn. “I come here to visit my father every day,” said Barbour, who is originally from Syria. “What I miss most about it are the nights where my father and I would do the calculations together for our baby clothes business, and we would talk and count numbers together. Barbour’s grief was palpable even nearly a year later. “Nothing tastes the same after the earthquake.”

In Samandag, a 20-minute drive from Antakya, builders repaired partially damaged buildings while others put together prefabricated structures for homes or shops. The locals, who were living in tent shelters under the bazaar, did not hope that their city would get the support it needs to recover.

A mountain of debris is growing nearby. Debris from cities and towns is brought here in dump trucks at all hours of the day. Activists and environmentalists have protested the ongoing dumping, concerned that the resulting dust could be toxic.

Thousands of apartments, built by TOKI, the government-supported housing agency, are being built in Antakya and other parts of Hatay. Residents do not expect the town to be rebuilt for another ten years.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.