Turkey’s earthquake survivors face big freeze in cars, tents

Residents and rescue personnel search for victims and survivors through the rubble of collapsed buildings in Adiyaman, in the night of February 8, 2023, two days after a 7,8-magnitude earthquake struck southeast Turkey. - The death toll from a huge earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria climbed to more than 17,100 on on February 9, as hopes faded of finding survivors stuck under rubble in freezing weather. (Photo by ILYAS AKENGIN / AFP)

Temperatures in the quake-stricken Turkish city of Gaziantep plunged to minus five degrees Celsius early Thursday, but thousands of families spent the night in cars and makeshift tents — too scared or prevented from returning to their homes, Agence France-Presse reported.

Parents walked the streets of the city — close to the epicenter of Monday’s earthquake that has left more than 12,000 dead — carrying their children in blankets because it was warmer than sitting in a tent.

“When we sit down, it is painful, and I fear for anyone who is trapped under the rubble in this,” said Melek Halıcı, who wrapped her 2-year-old daughter in a blanket as they watched rescuers working late into the night.

“Eventually we will have to go to the tent, but I don’t want to,” she added. “I can’t bear the cold, but nor can I think about going back to our apartment.”

City authorities have barred thousands of residents from going back to apartment blocks that are considered at risk from aftershocks shaking the region each day.

‘Our children are freezing’

Around the Halicis, smoke from dozens of fires filled the night air. Supermarkets and other businesses gave wooden pallets to families to burn.

Some people have found sanctuary with neighbors or relatives. Some have left the region. But many have nowhere to go.

Gyms, mosques, schools and some stores have opened up at night. But beds are still at a premium and thousands spend the nights in cars with engines running to provide heat.

“I have no choice,” said Süleyman Yanık, as he sat with one child playing with his car steering wheel and his wife and another child asleep on the back seat.

“The smell is horrible, but we cannot go home,” he said.

Restaurant manager Burhan Çağdaş said he had been sleeping in a car since Monday’s quake because of his family’s “psychological” opposition to returning home.

He was unsure how long they could hold out.

Many families have complained about the government’s handling of the quake relief operation.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan admitted during a trip to the region Wednesday that there had been “shortcomings” but insisted that the scope of the disaster was too big for any government to handle.

Poor families who have been camping around Gaziantep’s 6th-century castle, badly damaged by the quake, said authorities have done nothing for them.

The families have built makeshift homes with tarpaulin and wood thrown away by others. “They could at least have given us some tents,” said Ahmet Huseyin.

“Our children are freezing,” added the 40-year-old father of five whose nearby house was virtually destroyed by the 7.8 magnitude tremor.

“We have had to burn the park benches and even some of the children’s clothes. There was nothing else,” he said.

Some of the shelters did not even have the luxury of a tarpaulin to cover the entrance.

Emel Osman, a 14-year-old whose family fled Syria for Turkey seven years ago, said the authorities should have put up a tent, “at least for the children.”

Stones from the castle risk falling onto the park where the families have taken refuge. But they say they have no choice as they have no car and no alternative shelter.

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