'Everything was upside down': Emirati earthquake survivors tell of Turkey hotel collapse

Injured tourists scrambled out of rubble as Antakya crumbled

Left to right: Mohammed Al Hrmoodi, Ahmed Al Yassi and Majed Abdulrhman, all safely back in the UAE.  Antonie Robertson / The National
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Three Emiratis who were in Turkey when the devastating earthquake hit were trapped inside their hotel as the walls crumbled.

Mohammed Al Hrmoodi 26, Majed Abdulrhman, 24 and Ahmed Al Yassi, 26, were asleep in the Northhill Hotel in Antakya when last Monday's 7.8-magnitude quake struck.

“I remember thinking that I was being dragged along by a flood,” Mr Al Hrmoodi told The National.

“Everything in the room toppled over and I could hear screams.”

I’ll never forget the screams of a Syrian woman who was stuck under the ground and asked me to not leave her
Majed Abdulrhman

It is believed that dozens were killed when the Northhill collapsed.

Antakya, one of Turkey's most charming cities, was left in ruins by the quake, amid fears that thousands died there.

The Emirati trio were in the capital of Hatay province for a sports competition after flying in from Istanbul.

When the quake hit, at around 4.17am, they were asleep in their rooms. They woke to find the building swaying and the deafening noise of cracking concrete and windows.

“Everything was upside down,” said Mr Abdulrhman.

“I woke up finding myself on the floor and when I tried to get up, I couldn’t.

“I went to the window at first thinking I could jump but there was glass and bricks everywhere.”

When each of the men tried to open the doors to their rooms, they discovered the electronic locks had broken, trapping them inside.

Mr Al Hrmoodi and his friends said they managed to force open the doors to their rooms as the frames were cracked, but other guests were trapped.

He said they helped two German men and a Syrian couple to safety, but could hear the screams of others trapped in the building.

“People were screaming for help from every side,” said Mr Al Hrmoodi, a government employee in Sharjah.

“I broke down the door of the room next to me and Ahmed helped drag a Syrian man and a woman who we saw injured in the hallway, but we couldn’t help the others.”

After getting out of the hotel by jumping through the front facade window, the three men sought safety in a building next door.

Mr Al Yassi had a deep cut in his hand and injured legs while Mr Abdulrhman was heavily bruised, experiencing sharp pains with every movement. Mr Al Hrmoodi said he was somehow managed to escape unscathed.

Silence after second quake

A few minutes later another tremor hit and the hotel crumbled to the ground. It was then that the screams stopped, the men said.

“I kept telling myself that this was a bad dream and to wake up,” Mr Abdulrhman said.

“This was the moment [when the hotel collapsed] that I realised that I wasn’t dreaming.

“I’ll never forget the screams of a Syrian woman who was stuck under the ground and asked me to not leave her.”

He said he stayed with the woman until rescuers arrived and began to pull her out. He believes she survived.

Temperatures were below freezing on the night of the earthquake and the survivors had run out in just their nightclothes.

“I found a closed pharmacy which was destroyed but managed to grab some band aids to wrap Ahmed’s hand, which was bleeding heavily,” Mr Al Hrmoodi said.

“I grabbed two jackets I found for my friends,” he said.

Remembering to take his phone, Mr Al Hrmoodi called a Turkish friend for help.

They walked out of the city and found higher ground. Over hours, they tried to get phone reception and call the UAE embassy in Ankara, and eventually got through.

“I would go down from the mountain to try to get reception to call the embassy and every time I went down, I would hear people screaming for help,” Mr Al Hrmoodi said.

Over the next 12 hours, the men managed to get to a safe location and eventually took a bus to the city of Adana.

“All the destruction and people screaming and the injuries was like nothing you could ever believe,” he said.

Upon arrival in Adana, a representative from the UAE embassy accompanied them to the airport. A medical team from the UAE had flown in on a military plane carrying aid and was waiting for them.

After the Emiratis were flown home they were immediately taken for check-ups and treatment at an Abu Dhabi hospital.

Reflecting on his ordeal, Mr Abdulrhman said: “I wish I could have helped them all but they were too many — so much death and destruction. I know we have been given a new lease on life.”

Updated: February 13, 2023, 5:23 AM