‘I thought I was going to die’: Turkey quake survivors’ ordeal

Al Jazeera speaks to people pulled from the rubble at a hospital in Osmaniye about how they held on for help.

Teenaged Gülhan Vişne and her mother Özlem Vişne in a hospital
Gülhan Vişne (L), 17, a high school student, and her mother Özlem Vişne, 37, who works in a supermarket, at a hospital in Osmaniye, Turkey [Patrick Keddie/Al Jazeera]

Osmaniye, Turkey – Rescuers are still pulling people alive from the rubble nine days after earthquakes struck Turkey even though many of the operations across the 10 affected provinces are largely focusing on recovering bodies.

At a state hospital in Osmaniye, southern Turkey, some survivors recounted the horror of being trapped under their collapsed homes and spoke about what life might hold for them next.

Gülhan Vişne, 17, high school student

“I didn’t understand what was going on at first. I ran for the door to escape the building, and that second, our one-storey building collapsed on us [Gülhan and her mother, Özlem]. A wardrobe fell and crushed my ankle.

I thought I was going to die, that it was impossible to get out. There was very little space, it was full of dust and really hard to breathe, I’m still coughing because the dust scratched my lungs.

I could hear my mother shouting, ‘kızım! kızım! [my girl! my girl!] Where are you?’. I was also shouting but my mother couldn’t hear me as I was trapped pretty deep inside the building. I hit a door with a stone to make some noise.

At first, no one could reach me as the aftershocks were continuing, people were in shock, and only my mother tried to help me. Even with her broken ribs, she tried to pull me out of a hole that even a cat couldn’t pass through.

Eventually, more relatives and rescuers came to help. There was no light, only the light from my phone – the rescuers were shining a flashlight in to make me more comfortable because the dark made me feel afraid. It felt like years under there. I was thinking about my mother, because she has cancer and I was worried about her.

They [the rescuers] couldn’t lift the rubble off me, so they dug a really small tunnel but my foot was stuck.

I was trying to motivate myself – telling myself, ‘you’ve almost made it’ – but I passed out three or four times in those hours. But I had no time to panic, I was just trying to describe the situation and help the rescuers – ‘remove that stone, move that wardrobe, take out that door’. I was trying to give orders. It was so serious, I couldn’t panic. I was the only one who could describe how I was stuck.

They found a saw to cut the wardrobe to rescue me. I had been under there for about four hours, I was in so much pain, whenever they touched me I was in agony.

The police came and took me to different hospitals, but they had collapsed – maybe three or four hospitals – and finally I made it here.

My ankle and collarbone are broken, and I’ve broken some ribs. They will do an operation on my ankle when the swelling goes down because the bone is smashed. They’ll put some plates and screws in. But my phone didn’t get a scratch [laughs].

The aftershocks still continue several times a day. I feel like a huge earthquake is going to happen again, so I’m scared.

We are planning to move to Konya [in central Turkey] after I leave hospital. My father rented us a house there, because here most places were damaged.

I was born in Kahmaranmaras but grew up in Osmaniye. It will be very hard to leave. I’m in the last year of high school. My family, my friends, they’re here. My aunt is in Konya and we’re going there because it’s not in an earthquake zone.

I want to go to college and become a kindergarten teacher, I love kids.

But all plans are on hold for the moment.”

[Courtesy of Vişne family]
[Courtesy of Vişne family]

Özlem Vişne, 37, Gülhan’s mother, supermarket worker

“When [the earthquake] happened, there was a door behind me. I broke the door with a stone and saw a little light. I dug myself out a bit and shouted to the neighbours, ‘please help us’, but they were also freaked out. Later, an aftershock shifted some debris and I had the chance to get out.

I was trying to shout with broken ribs and find my daughter. As parents, we don’t worry about ourselves, we worry about our kids.

The hospital sent us away with our broken bones for the first two days, because it was so chaotic here. My brother drives a school bus. So we stayed in that, and the aftershocks went on and on [starts crying].

I can’t sleep, even though I take pills. I have a hard time to enter buildings, I usually wait outside the hospital. When I want to sleep and close my eyes, I just hear my daughter’s voice shouting for help.

There’s still dust and dirt stuck in my ear.

Our building was a rental property. We only moved in a few months ago and I’d bought everything new for it with a bank loan as I’m going through a divorce. We didn’t manage to salvage anything and I owe about 20,000 Turkish lire [$1,060].

I work at a supermarket, but I’m also being treated for breast cancer. I have to work to support my kids [her son was away in Bursa staying with his father when the quake happened], even then I have no money. It’s so tough but you have to act like you’re fine, and you try to hide your real mental and physical state.

We didn’t get any psychological support yet. And the financial support from the state is not enough – they will only give us 2,000 lire [$106, per month] for rental support – it’s not enough.

Politicians just pass through the hospital and say ‘geçmiş olsun [get well soon]’, take a couple of pictures, and leave. They don’t ask how we are. It’s just to show off. They don’t care about us.

We are going to start again from zero in Konya. It’s hard to live as a single woman in Konya [a very conservative city]. I worry about finding a job, I worry about finding a good neighbourhood, I’m so worried about the future.”

Marut Babaoğlu, 26, car mechanic. [Patrick Keddie/Al Jazeera]
Marut Babaoğlu [Patrick Keddie/Al Jazeera]

Murat Babaoğlu, 26, car mechanic

“I was awake when the earthquake happened, I ran down the stairs of the building – I was on the fifth floor, there are eight floors in total. I reached between the second and third floors, then the building collapsed and I was stuck under rubble in the stairwell. I was in a space big enough so that I could turn and move a little, but my hand was stuck. It was pitch dark.

When aftershocks happened, it made the stairs move a little bit, and I freed my hand. I was just sleeping, waking up, sleeping, that’s all. My head was lower than my feet, I was kind of headfirst down the stairs, and my feet went numb because all the blood went to my head.

After more than three days, I had to drink my own urine. I got so thirsty that I peed into a shoe and drank out of that. After a while, my body stopped accepting the urine, it made me vomit.

Eventually, I heard the construction machines but I couldn’t hear human voices for a while.

I listened to the machines, the noise got louder bit by bit, and it kept me going. My life went in front of me like a movie. I thought about all of it.

When I heard voices, I started to whistle. It took 12 hours [from him hearing them] for them to respond to me.

From the top of the collapsed building, they made a tunnel to reach me and pull me out.

While they were making the tunnel, they made a line and lowered down some medicine. I felt heavier, so I don’t remember a lot after that. I asked for salgam [sour spicy purple carrot juice, popular in the region] and water, but they gave me an IV drip.

Firefighters from Balikesir [a city in northern Turkey] rescued me. They discovered me in the daytime and worked to rescue me for nine hours, and when I was rescued it was night. I was saved on the fourth day.

I was in intensive care when I opened my eyes. Everyone working there got very excited when I opened my eyes. I was in shock, but people were cheering.

I had to have an operation on my hand and my elbow was injured, but I don’t have any broken bones. When my hand got stuck, blood didn’t reach my fingers, so my movement is limited, but it’s getting better. I may need physiotherapy, we’ll see.

But after I was rescued, I was told my mother, father and brother had died in the wreckage.

In Islam, they are considered martyrs – so it gives me some solace that they will go to heaven.

Basically, I’m fine. The only thing is that I don’t think I can live in a [similar] building again.

There is no need for psychological support. A couple of guys came and offered psychological support two days in a row, but I didn’t want to talk.

Now, I don’t have any [definite plan] but I want to go to Balikesir. The rescue team invited me to come there and work with them. So I’m thinking about setting up a new life in Balikesir.

[After this experience] I am closer to God, material things don’t matter, and people are more important to me now. I understand that death is so close, as close as your nose. It can happen at any time.”

[Interviews edited and condensed for clarity.]

Source: Al Jazeera