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'How can that be?' - Man sticks to vigil after hunt for relatives in Turkiye quake ruins called off

February 22, 2023 at 4:56 pm

A view of debris after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Osmaniye, Turkiye on February 06, 2023 [Ozan Efeoğlu/Anadolu Agency]

More than two weeks after huge earthquakes devastated Turkiye’s Antakya, Mustafa Kazzaz was camped near the rubble of his family’s building, refusing to move even after the search for the bodies of his father, brother and sister had ended.

“They worked and worked. They dug out the whole building,” he said, sitting alone in darkness on a plot of land across from the building his family lived in, Reuters reports.

“They told me the work is done. There is no one else. They are saying, ‘Your brother, sister, father are not here.’ How can that be?”

Rescue operations in the 10 provinces that were battered by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 6 February that killed more than 47,000 people in southern Turkey and northern Syria were largely called off on Sunday.

When another violent tremor struck Hatay province on Monday, several buildings collapsed, killing six people and prompting renewed rescue operations. But, by Tuesday, efforts to save survivors had ceased, and Antakya city centre was desolate.

There was only the grinding clamour of excavators clearing away debris from nearby collapsed buildings, as emergency workers tried to pinpoint the bodies of a mother and daughter.

Kazzaz, a 25-year-old Syrian who arrived in Turkiye with his family five years ago, was sitting in a chair next to a tent he had been sleeping in for 15 days.

“I will wait here my whole life. I will not leave,” Kazzaz said, holding his head in his hands as he wept. “I knew at least 250 people on this street. Now they are all dead,” he said, referring to a main street in Antakya where his family resided.

Kazzaz had been living in Turkiye’s north-eastern province of Trabzon, where he worked as a translator in the tourism sector. He spent the day before the first earthquake hit in Antakya, visiting his family for the first time in years.

“I had been working for three years in Trabzon, saving up to get married. My mother converted it all to gold and that all remained in the house. (Now) I am starting from scratch.”

When news of the initial quake broke, he hurried back to Antakya. He said he pulled his sister and mother out of the rubble on his own, without help from authorities.

A video of what he said was his own rescue effort showed him climbing deep inside a narrow opening between a collapsed ceiling and the floor, until only his feet could be seen sticking out.

His mother was already dead when he brought her out, and his sister died shortly after, he said. In another video, he pointed to his sister’s body, seen covered in a pink blanket.

“I was living for them. It is like I am newly born. I have no one. I have no money. I have nothing. I have no future. I have no home.”

READ: Algeria rescuer recalls saving 3-month-old baby from rubble in quake-hit Turkiye