In Turkish village flattened by quake, ‘no tents, no shelter, only cars to sleep in’

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From our special correspondents in Atalar – More than 72 hours after the catastrophic quakes that ravaged southern Turkey, residents of Atalar, a mountainous village west of Gaziantep, are still waiting for aid to reach them, with only their cars to shelter them from the bitter cold.

“We have nowhere to go. It’s cold. We are freezing.” Shivering in a puffer jacket, a shawl wrapped around her head, a woman sits on a pile of a gravel, quietly sobbing. The mountain of rubble at her feet points to where her home once stood.

Like so many others here in Atalar, the woman and her family have been left homeless since the deadly earthquakes that ravaged southern Turkey and neighbouring Syria before dawn on Monday.

>> Live: Death toll from Turkey, Syria earthquakes tops 16,000

“We’re out in the cold with our four children, we have nothing left,” she says. Her village lies roughly 30 kilometres from the city of Gaziantep, where the first makeshift tents are being set up for the homeless. But here there are none.

“We have no news of our relatives, everyone is dead,” the woman cries, her voice choked with emotion. “God help Turkey and its people. I have no words. God, help us!”

‘The government has done nothing’

In this mountainous farmers’ village, the violence of the tremors literally ripped apart the frail buildings made of cinder blocks. In the ascending alleys covered in icy snow, the gutted homes expose the intimacy of those who lived there: bedrooms wide open, furniture splintered on the floor, clothes scattered about, and animals roaming amid the desolation.

Here and there, residents comb through the debris, trying to recover what they can. Women sort through broken dishware, sometimes letting out an anguished moan, their faces a portrait of despair.

A home gutted by the earthquake in the village of Atalar. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

A few steps away, volunteers are busy handing out hot meals prepared by residents of a neighbouring village who fared better in the quake, trying to bring a little comfort to those who lost everything.

“The government has done nothing,” says Okkesh, a local resident in his 50s, sighing between mouthfuls of pasta and soup. “They still haven’t come here. There are no tents, no shelter. People sleep in their cars.”

>> ‘Can anybody hear me?’: In Turkey’s quake-hit Kahramanmaras, a desperate hunt for survivors

In the aftermath of the quakes, the people of Atalar had to go digging for survivors without waiting for help. “We pulled many bodies from the rubble,” says Okkesh. “People were buried under there for two days. Two days with nothing to eat or drink.”

‘Only give to those in need’

While there is still no sign of the tent camps being erected in other quake-stricken areas, residents of this village at least receive help from the occasional truck laden with foot, water and other essentials. When one pulls up, it is swiftly surrounded by a desperate crowd.

The truck bringing food, clothes and blankets is emptied in a matter of seconds.
The truck bringing food, clothes and blankets is emptied in a matter of seconds. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

“Only one bag per person!” shouts a volunteer as he hands out sacks of bread, instructing his fellow workers to ensure they are evenly distributed. “If someone comes back for more, say no,” he adds. “Only give to those in need.”

Within seconds, the truck is completely emptied – proof of the enormous needs of a quake-stricken population persuaded that it has been abandoned to its fate.

This article has been translated from the original in French. 

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