'Like the end of the world': Syrian father recalls Turkey earthquake

Survivor tells how mental scars remain six months after deadly disaster

The aftermath of the earthquake in Antakya, Turkey, in February. Photo: AFP
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A Syrian father said his family prayed for their lives to be spared when February's deadly earthquake struck.

Mohammed Jaafar, 45, said the ground shook and walls collapsed around them in their apartment block in Antakya, Turkey, as they sought safety.

Mr Jaafar, who has two children aged 7 and 5, said he is haunted by the harrowing ordeal six months on.

We are all affected mentally after what we have seen
Mohammed Jaafar

“We were all sleeping in one room when suddenly the ground started shaking violently. In a minute, the walls collapsed, and it was darkness,” Mr Jaafar said.

He said the family quickly gathered their collections and clutched each other tightly, praying that they survive.

“We had minor earthquakes before, and we thought this one was similar. But this one felt like the end of the world.”

As buildings crumbled around them, he led his wife and children outside of their ground-floor home in the 11-storey building to seek help.

They found the natural disaster had left behind a trail of destruction.

“Luckily my car was untouched, and we had no injuries. We slept in the car for three days as the building was affected and it was not safe to return to the apartment,” said Mr Jaafar.

“People were under the debris, and we did not know what to do or where to go. It was a scene from Judgment Day.”

He said that his brother, sister, and other family members were living in Gaziantep – a Turkish city hit hard by the quake – but all were safe.

The 7.8-magnitude quake struck near the Turkey-Syria border in the early hours of Monday, February 6.

It was soon followed by a second earthquake of similar strength, with a series of aftershocks adding to the destruction.

More than 58,000 people were killed in both countries, with many more injured. Thousands of homes were destroyed, leaving survivors at the mercy of harsh winter conditions.

Family given vital support

Mr Jaafar said he and his family were moved to a temporary shelter.

“The care and support we received from the medical staff, the Turkish government and volunteers was overwhelming. It reminded us of the kindness of strangers,” he said.

One month later, he rented a home in Gaziantep.

“I went a couple of times to my old apartment and the scene was still catastrophic. I managed to collect my passport and some valuables left behind,” he said.

“Individuals, businessmen, and support agencies provided meals and support to people who were affected by the disaster. It was a great moment of unity.”

He said his family were initially given rent support by the government, but prices had now risen because of high demand.

As Turkey continues a slow rebuilding process, the mental scars of the millions affected remain.

“We are all affected mentally after what we have seen, and we need mental support, too. The government is doing its best to recover but there will be some financial difficulties in the long run,” he said.

He said work is still being carried out to estimate the damage to the building he once called home, but he fears it may have to be demolished.

How to help

People in the UAE can provide financial assistance to those in need by using the website of Emirates Red Crescent, the humanitarian arm of the government, as part of the Bridges of Giving campaign.

People have the option to donate to relief efforts in Syria and Turkey by PayPal, credit card, bank transfer or by text message.

Once donations have been received, an invoice from Emirates Red Crescent will confirm your contribution.

People can donate to Syria relief here and to Turkey relief here.

The UN offers a wide variety of ways to support millions of people who have been affected.

These include UN Crisis Relief, which supports humanitarian efforts, the UN World Food Programme, the UN Refugee Agency and Unicef.

For more information on how to donate to the various UN-led projects, visit here.

Updated: August 05, 2023, 7:25 AM