Rescue operations have ended in Turkey's Izmir province, where a deadly earthquake killed 117 people.
When on 30 October, a giant building collapsed on Fadimana Tolu, a 53-year-old retired medical high school teacher, at a supermarket in Izmir, Turkey all she could think about was how to stay alive.
“I was thinking of my kids and husband to keep my motivation to stay awake during the 15.5 hours I was in under the rubble,” she told TRT World. “I was moving my fingers, my body and telling two other women I heard behind the walls what to do to stay conscious.”
“But after getting through the first schock, you begin to realise what has happened,” she added.
Almost a week later, she’s been constantly thanking God that she was among the 107 people who were rescued after a 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit the city. But, while waiting for a doctor to check up on her broken bones at Ege University Hospital with her family on her side, the thought of what she has lost has started to sink in.
All rescue operations ended in the city on November 4. The Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation’s damage assessment is underway: 178 buildings have already been marked as severely damaged or collapsed, while 1319 others have incurred medium or low-level damage.
Citizens whose houses have been destroyed or who now cannot access their belongings from unsafe buildings, will be given an assistance of 3,500 USD (30000 Turkish Liras). The tenants who will be forced to move out of their damaged houses will be paid 590 USD (5,000 TL) and their owners will receive 1,500 USD (13,000 TL) the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency says.
Tolu’s house was also severely damaged. Half of her building collapsed during the earthquake. Her family, now staying at a relative’s house, won't be able to access any of their belongings before the house gets fully knocked down during the debris-clearance operation. The thought of losing her house — half of it to the earthquake and the other half to the clearing operation — has added grief and resentment to her gratitude.
“The contractors caused the loss of life of so many people,” she recounts as her husband quietly tears up on her side. “You can regain physical things, but life can’t be brought back. My childrens’ future was also lost with their computers and belongings where they kept their works,” Tolu says.
“Even if I survived, there is a part of me that was lost.”
The rescuers have left the city, and the rubble rescuers, who have been at work for days, have now gone. But on the right side of Rizabey Apartmani in Bayrakli neighbourhood, where the latest person, a four-year-old girl, was found alive in the rubble after 91 hours, the tents remain. Officials have provided 2,700 tents after the quake, Turkish President Erdogan said in a speech on November 3.
Then there’s the story of the next hundred or so people, those whose houses have been damaged, or who are too afraid to step back into their homes, or who are waiting for confirmation that the buildings are safe - they’re all in the tents.
In the rescue camp, there’s a strong sense of solidarity among volunteers and municipality officials. They make frequent rounds to ensure people's needs are met. Multiple tents outside the park provide food and snacks.
Sezer's family is touched by the help provided by strangers as they stay within one of these shelters along with their kids in Bayrakli. However, the fear of aftershocks adds to the uncertainty, encouraging stress and worry. A minaret of a mosque hangs next to their building. They’ve decided that they will have their apartment checked for safety.
“Earthquakes don't kill, buildings do,” Naime Sezer, 63, tells TRT World.
“It’s a disaster sent by Allah (God), but the humans need to be careful. Only if they hadn't removed columns in the buildings just to widen the area...”
“They’ve risked people's lives for their own gain,” her husband Fikret, 69, agrees.
Eight contractors have been detained in relation to collapsed buildings thus far. The Turkish President announced new regulations will be introduced in order to scrutinise the construction work for better accountability.
Erdogan also announced the construction of a container city in Bayrakli - it will be ready in 20 days for those who are in need. Construction of the housing for earthquake victims will begin in a month.
Iman is a Syrian refugee who is also currently residing in a tent in Bayrakli along with her husband, kids and mother in law. Fleeing Syrian war, they moved to Turkey 5 years ago and Izmir has been their last stop - her husband found work in the city. Unlike many others in the camp, she has experienced similar destruction - on a larger scale - in Aleppo, but she’s not fearing the earthquake. It only reminds her of times of distress.
“It’s not the same situation, I have everything I need now, but it reminded me of the time when we felt unsafe in our houses in Syria and when we had to stay in tents at the refugee camps,” she says.
With her house damaged, she still hopes to one day create a home again.
“My kids were really scared when the earthquake shook us, so we left the building,” she says. At least 3 families in the Bayrakli camp told TRT World that their children were traumatised by the earthquake. Some said their children almost haven’t been sleeping since the earthquake.
“Our 10 year-old granddaughter herpes all over their mouth," Sezgin family says. "She will need psychological support, the municipality workers say.”