When I first moved to Mersin, Türkiye I befriended a ginger stray. I named her Evil because, quite frankly, she was a feral cat who hated everything and everyone. I made it my mission to win over her love and I’m pleased to say that I did.
At a little past 4AM on 6 February 2023 Evil started screaming—LOUDLY! She raced into my bedroom and jumped on the bed howling in my face.
“Bloody cat,” I grumbled to myself.
She wouldn’t settle down so I got up and wandered down the hallway in the darkness to let her out onto our terrace.
I had just crawled back into bed when it began, the first of devastating “twin earthquakes”. And while I had experienced earthquakes before here in Mersin, this one was different. It was much stronger. I currently live in a mid-level building but I have no direct knowledge of the quality of its construction so when the windows started rattling, the lights began swinging in a terrifying motion and the floors and walls began to shake I was scared.
The epicentre of the first earthquake, a 7.8 magnitude, was outside of Gaziantep, approximately 200 kilometres from Mersin.
The second quake, a 7.5 magnitude, followed nine hours later, its epicentre 100 kilometres further north in near Ekinözü. Daughter and I had just returned home when this one struck. The building sounded like it was groaning and “popping” as it shifted back and forth. This one seemed worse, and we quickly moved to a doorway to ride it out.
The city of Mersin escaped virtually unscathed with only minor damage reported. But the cities of Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras, Urfa, Iskenderun and Hatay, not to mention Northern Syria, have been all but wiped from the face of the earth with nothing but mountains of rubble and twisted metal left behind.
It is difficult for me to articulate the thoughts that are currently zooming around in my head. We are safe. We have a home and food and are warm. We are fortunate, but too many families weren’t so lucky and are living through the most unimaginable horrors.
So far more than 28,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands of people are still missing. More than 100,000 people have been injured and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.
This is a disaster that Türkiye and Northern Syria were not prepared for, despite what officials may say. The destruction zone is over 99,000 square km’s. For context that’s larger than the country of Hungary or the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria combined.
Our village here in Mersin has a large number of extended family from Hatay and the loss and grief can be felt in every home. My beloved sister in law lost family members and the few who were lucky enough to be pulled from their home are now safely here in Mersin.
People have asked me why was the damage so bad?
I have opinions as to why so many buildings collapsed, particularly those new-builds that were built to “withstand earthquakes” but for the sake of my family I won’t elaborate further. Those of you who live here in Türkiye already know the answer. For those of you who don’t, a simple Google search will provide you with more information.
Instead, let me tell you the story of my sister in law’s family.
Their home was in the ancient city of Antakya, in Hatay. It was built well over 50 years ago as a single storey dwelling. When children grew and married, they built another home upstairs, and so on and so forth. All in all, the building was four levels. Four levels equal four families. Grandmothers, aunts, uncles, parents, children and grandchildren all happily living together under the one roof until 4:17AM on 6 February 2023. Sadly, the foundations and columns were not designed to withstand the additional weight of those three levels and when the first earthquake struck the building collapsed.
Their entire neighbourhood is no longer standing.
Can you imagine?
Now imagine that in an area of the city you live in. Single-level residential buildings or multi-level residential buildings. New and old. Completely gone.
It has now been six days since the earthquakes struck. Governments and international organisations from around the world have responded with assistance but here on the ground it was the Turkish community who acted as one to assist with rescue and humanitarian efforts, even before any AFAD (Ministry for Interior Disaster and Emergency) teams arrived in affected areas. Within hours trucks were rolling out from Mersin with rescue teams as well as desperately needed food, clothing and medical supplies.
People are miraculously still being found alive and pulled from the rubble of their homes. We all pray that there are still more survivors that will be rescued in the coming days but the chances of finding survivors decreases as each day passes.
So, what happens now?
Türkiye will rebuild although perhaps not on the time-frame stated by those in charge.
With thousands of buildings now rubble across dozens of cities it will be years before these cities will resemble their old selves. Even intact buildings that look fine, their structural integrity may well be damaged with more buildings will likely need to be torn down.
Rebuilding critical infrastructure will be a high priority. The affected cities water supplies, sanitation services, electrical grids and transport have been damaged. Hospitals, schools and government buildings have collapsed. Right now, telecommunications to some of the smaller villages is still out (and I won’t make reference to the recent blockage of Twitter imposed at a time when rescue teams were using that form of social media on the ground to collate and map locations of people trapped under the rubble).
Here in Mersin survivors have been arriving daily. Hotels, dormitories, conference halls and private homes have opened their doors to provide temporary accommodation to those citizens who are in need, but this is only a short-term solution. Continued support and aid will be needed for many years to come.
What can you do to help?
I know times are tough for all of us right now but the best way you can help here is to donate money. The honest truth is that the collection of goods from abroad, while done with the best intentions, may never end up on the ground here due to many factors such as damaged roads, and inclement weather right now. Countries such as Australia and the US are just too far away. Money donations however will ensure that items that are so desperately needed will be purchased from locations close to the disaster zone. This will enable the fastest possible delivery to those people in the greatest need.
And don’t forget that even a small sum will make a huge difference here. You’ve probably already seen the posts on social media but just a reminder:
€10 is 28 loafs of bread.
US$10 is 130 bottles of water.
AUD$15 is 46 baby nappies.
AHBAP is an NGO based here in Türkiye. You can donate to them here.
Lisa Morrow of Inside Out In Istanbul has also written a post about overseas donations. You can view her post here.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out. Your thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated from everyone here in Türkiye.
And in case you’re wondering my wonderful fat cat, Evil, got a big bowl of lactose-free milk and lots of thank you hugs for warning us before the earthquake struck.
If want a copy of the ultimate guidebook to Mersin you can grab your copy at any of the following online retailers (and yes it is available in Turkiye):
Amazon US – Kindle or paperback
Amazon UK – Kindle or paperback
Trendyol – paperback (Turkiye only)
Akademisyen Kitabevi – paperback (Turkiye only)
All sales of my books in February will be donated to AHBAP towards the relief effort.