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Six months after being buried alive: “Many say that the earthquake is over, but it is not over"

Elcin, 38, was trapped in the rubble for 81 hours after the earthquake. PHOTO: Sarah Easter /CARE

Elcin, 38, was trapped in the rubble for 81 hours after the earthquake. PHOTO: Sarah Easter /CARE

On February 6, 2023, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake jolted the people of southeastern Türkiye and neighboring Syria from their sleep. A second 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck later that day at 1:24 p.m. Nothing has been the same since.

Thousands of people died, and tens of thousands were injured. In many places, infrastructure was severely damaged.

Six months later, the humanitarian needs are still enormous. The situation for people in the earthquake-affected areas of Türkiye and north-west Syria remains catastrophic.

This is just one story of millions from the people in the region who have lost their homes, belongings, their livelihoods, and, often, their families.

The cover of Elcin's phone, with a picture of her children. Photo: Tarek Satea/CARE

The first 90 seconds

Elcin, 38, is awake and lying in her bed with her eight-year-old daughter Elena when their house starts shaking.

Elcin calls her son’s name, and then her parents’ names. They are sleeping in a different room. She tries to stand up, but it’s impossible to keep her balance. They try to leave. Her son yells that they need to take the phone.

Then, the electricity cuts off, plunging them into darkness. The destruction around them is so loud, 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.”

The ceiling collapses.

Destruction in Gaziantep, Türkiye after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Türkiye and Syria in February 2023. Pictures were taken hours after the impact. Photo: CARE Türkiye

The first 12 hours

The right side of Elcin’s body is trapped. It’s completely dark, but she can still feel her daughter Elena, pressed against her left arm.

“I couldn’t see anything, but I could smell the dust of the debris, and it was heavy in my lungs.”

The shaking starts again. An aftershock.

“I could not hear my mother or son and didn’t know where they were when our house fell.”

She is able to talk to Elena. Her daughter says that she does not want to die.

Elcin tries to calm her and tells her that everything is going to be fine. That they will survive.

“I felt when my daughter died. We were trapped for 12 hours, and then she was gone.”

Even though it is completely dark, Elcin knows the exact time it happened. She says she heard it. She doesn’t elaborate.

She hears the morning and evening prayer calls, even though all the mosques surrounding her have collapsed. She has no explanation for this.

“When I was alone,” she says. “I did not want to live anymore.”

Day 2

On the second day trapped under the debris, Elcin hears voices above her.

“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.”

She tried to call out to them, but she no longer has the strength in her voice.

Day 3

Elcin only remembers darkness.

Day 4

Breathing has become harder. It is cold and water drops are falling on her.

Then, in the dark and cold, 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. At 1:13 p.m. the technical team reached me, but I told them to take my daughter’s body out first. I didn’t want her lying there any longer.”

She has been trapped under the debris for 81 hours. They find the bodies of her mother and son four days later.

Six months after the earthquake, Elcin stands in a destroyed street in the southern Türkiye province Hatay. Photo: Tarek Satea/CARE

Now, six months later

Elcin and her father live in a 130 square foot container in her old neighborhood in Hatay.

“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.”

She currently has no financial support. The newspaper she used to work for stopped publishing after the earthquake heavily damaged their building.

“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.”

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

Elcin showing CARE staff her destroyed neighborhood in Hatay. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

The town Elcin is living in is destroyed. 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,” Elcin says.

With funding from the European Union, CARE is distributing drinking water, food, hygiene kits, kitchen utensils, and latrines, as well as providing protection services, shelter, and safe access to sanitation to those affected by the earthquake. CARE has provided water and a kitchen set to Elcin and her father.

“Water is so crucial, because water is life,” she says.

She opens her phone and scrolls through photos of her children. A tattoo shows both of them, inked into her right arm for eternity, their faces blank.

“Everything has changed,” she says. “But I want to address the mothers of lost children and hope that better days will come for us.”

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