‘Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we just wait’: Grief turns to anger in Antakya over earthquake response

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By Anelise Borges
Search and Rescue operations underway
Search and Rescue operations underway   -  Copyright  IHA via AP

For many families in southeastern Turkey, the wait to find out if their loved ones are still alive is excruciating.

A week after two earthquakes hit Turkey, causing widespread devastation in it and neighbouring Syria, thousands of rescue teams are still searching for signs of life through the rubble of what used to be apartment blocks.

Umut Senoglu is a software developer in Antakya, Turkey. He told Euronews that many of his loved ones are still trapped under the rubble, including his sister, his nieces and nephews and his brother-in-law.

“Maybe yesterday 20 bodies were recovered,” he said, recounting the harrowing search and rescue operations in Antakya.

“The last successful rescue was two days ago. Since then, we have only recovered the dead. It’s difficult… sometimes we cry. Sometimes we just wait.”

Death toll in Turkey and Syria passes 33,000

The 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes on 6 February were the worst natural disaster to strike Turkey in nearly a century.

The subsequent death toll in northern Syria and southeastern Turkey has since surpassed 33,000. That figure is expected to rise as search teams find more bodies.

Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, is among the hardest hit by the quakes. And bulldozers prepared a large cemetery on the city’s outskirts. Hundreds of graves are now marked with simple wooden planks.

Without electricity, water, or toilets, those who survived are at greater risk, as a cholera outbreak is spreading rapidly, and aftershocks are a constant problem, hindering rescue efforts.

AP Photo
Pictures recovered from the rubble of a building destroyed during the earthquake are placed in a windshield of a car in Antakya.AP Photo

A chaotic response to the disaster

After seven days of waiting, shock and disbelief are slowly turning into anger over what many describe as a chaotic response to the disaster.

"Private companies sent their cranes and diggers here. But when they arrived, they didn’t know what to do… they were just technical operators. They can use cranes, but they are not experts in rescue operations,” Umut said.

In the chaos, family members have been begging operators to go to specific buildings to save their loved ones.

Rescue crews have been slowed down by the widespread damage, making it harder for them to respond quickly.

The country’s opposition has criticised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's response to the earthquake, arguing that he failed to prepare his country for the inevitable disaster.

In response, the government says there is no way they could have been prepared for a disaster of this magnitude.