Gaziantep: At my parents’ house, I felt like the shaking would never end

Gaziantep, Turkey

My parents woke up in terror, screaming as the ground shook beneath us. I shouted at them to take cover. “It will be over soon, it will be over soon,” I shouted, even though it felt like it would never end.

It was a little after 4:15 a.m. and I was at my parents’ house in Gaziantep, in southern Turkey. The neighborhood was plunged into darkness when I felt the first tremor.

I wasn’t too worried at first. It’s just another minor earthquake, the kind we feel every two months here, I thought. But then the shaking got stronger and stronger.

Seconds later it became so shaky that furniture was falling over and I could hear things shattering. My parents were screaming. “Stay under the door frames,” I shouted, begging them to keep calm.

The force felt like someone was trying to knock me down, I could feel the violent reverberations in my chest. I fell to the ground. The shaking continued. It took a few minutes before it finally stopped.

We ran out of the house in pajamas and slippers. It was freezing cold and it was pouring rain. There was snow on the ground. The whole neighborhood was on the street.

Twenty minutes later, when we thought it might be over, the first aftershocks arrived. I counted 11, one after the other.

I rushed inside to grab proper coats and boots and we jumped into a car to move to an open area away from buildings. I heard ambulances and fire engines heading towards the old town, which is full of older and more fragile structures.

The aftershocks followed one another during the day. Some were incredibly strong. One of them hit while I was right next to a large badly damaged building. A civil defense official shouted for everyone to run.

Later, I drove to Pazarcık, a town of 35,000 people closer to the epicentre. It was like Armageddon. There is at least one completely destroyed building on every street.

A Syrian who lives there told me that the building right next to his had collapsed. Someone – a woman, he said – was still inside when the building collapsed and rescuers were digging through the rubble to try to find her.

I stayed in Pazarcık for 30 minutes and during this short time I felt four aftershocks. It didn’t seem safe to stay, so I returned to Gaziantep.

That’s when the ground started shaking again. It was biblical. Everyone got out of their car. The shaking was so strong that I was barely able to stand. The water in the ditch beside the road pounded violently back and forth like a storm.

People trying to get out of Gaziantep got stuck in a traffic jam that lasted for several kilometres. There were cracks in the road and a wrecked car on the side of the highway.

In Gaziantep, we take refuge in a mosque where it is safer than at home. Municipal workers distributed water, bread and hot rice.

I know it would be even safer to stay outside, in case there are more aftershocks. But the temperature is just above zero. My parents can’t stay out in the open.


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