Families cling to hope as search for survivors in Turkey underway
The sounds of tractors dragging rubble from the collapsed building melded with the sobs of women awaiting news of their loved ones. Relatives were huddled around piles of scrap wood set ablaze to keep them warm as they watched the painstakingly slow progress.
It was midnight in Adana, Turkey, some 160 kilometres away from the epicentre of the deadly earthquake that devastated Turkey and Syria in the early hours of Monday morning.
Over 4,000 people had been killed across the two countries, with the death tolls expected to rise over the coming days.
The city had suffered at least two collapsed apartment buildings and parked cars lined the city's streets, all of them occupied. Adana's residents did want to sleep inside, for fear of further aftershocks which seismologists had warned could happen at any moment over the coming days and weeks.
"I've been here since 5 am," said Ilker, a 43-year old environmental engineer whose aunt was trapped somewhere beneath the rubble of the 16-storey building in front of him.
He had spent the day watching first responders recover bodies, not survivors, from the rubble.
Bodies were transported to a waiting ambulance in zipped-up black bags, where family members would be brought to identify their loved ones.
Some people were completely unrecognisable, crushed by the sheer weight of the building. Ilker said a child that was pulled from the rubble "had no face … there was no head."
"We are still hoping, though in our hearts we know it's nearly impossible to see them back alive," Ilker told The New Arab without mentioning his last name for fear of repercussions for talking to the media.
Another person at the scene said that they had seen "three, maybe four survivors," but around "24 dead bodies" recovered from under the building.
As Ilker spoke, first responders combed painstakingly through the rubble. Residents waited in silence as excavators dig, going silent each time first responders pause, hoping to find a survivor.
In half-lit disaster site, everything begins to look like a body: Rolled up carpets, mattresses and old clothing.
First responders would present the awaiting crowds with any personal artifacts they found that could help identify if they were close to a loved-ones' apartment.
The relatives would pass around dust-covered handbags and old photos in silence, hoping it would have some significance to someone, if not them.
"If I lose the hope, I lose my parents. I just can't lose my hope," Eren Unaldei, a 46-year old who was waiting for news of her mother and father who lived on the 7th floor, told TNA.
Some two blocks away, another apartment building had collapsed. This one was 12-storeys tall, but seemed to have collapsed in on itself.
The concrete was stacked in a high mound, and emergency responders seemed to struggle much more to peel apart the twisted skeleton of the building.
Outside Adana, the scenes of destructions were even worse. Entire city blocks were flattened, and residents gathered in mosques and other ad-hoc shelters.
Roads to major cities like Gaziantep were completely blocked, and Molham, an emergency response NGO, said that it had tried to send aid to affected cities – but had trouble reaching there.
"We sent a car with blankets and food to Antakya, but the cutoff in cell-phone networks and frequency of aftershocks had delayed the cars," Faisal al-Aswad, an emergency response coordinator with Molham, told TNA.
Turkish President Recep Tayep Erdogan declared a week of national mourning for the victims of the earthquake on Monday, to end on 12 February.