5 Stories from the Türkiye and Syria earthquakes

Read 5 stories from survivors of the Turkey and Syria earthquakes – what they experienced, and how aid has supported their recovery.

5 February 2024

Three people smiling to the camera in Turkey

On the 6th February 2024 it will be one year since devastating earthquakes impacted Türkiye (formerly Turkey) and Syria. The earthquakes struck in the middle of the night, when most people were at home asleep. The disaster killed over 50,000 people and destroyed more than 66,000 buildings.

ShelterBox responded in both Türkiye and Syria. We provided emergency shelter to people left with nothing after the earthquakes. Homes were destroyed or severely damaged. Many people were also afraid to sleep indoors, fearing another earthquake. In northern Syria, the earthquake followed years of war and violence that had already forced millions from their homes. In total we supported over 12,500 people.

In this blog we’re sharing the stories of some of the people we supported after the earthquakes. They share what they experienced that night, and how aid has supported their recovery.

“Before the earthquake, life was normal”

Man and woman outside a home in Turkey damaged by the earthquakes
Celal and his wife Sibel outside their home. It was badly damaged in the earthquake.

Celal and his wife Sibel live with their two daughters in the Asurz region of Türkiye. They both have fond memories of life before the earthquake.

Before the earthquake, life was normal,” said Celal. “We went to work, went out in the weekends. We now just spend a lot of time in the house.

On the night of the earthquake the family were able to escape uninjured. However, Celal’s mother, Cecile, was not so fortunate. “Her whole building collapsed. She lived only 3km away and it is one of the most damaged places around the area. When we saw the damage, we thought there was no chance that someone could survive under all the rubble.”

Fortunately Cecile did survive the earthquake, but she was badly injured. She was saved by Celal’s two brothers but at a terrible cost. “My two brothers and mother were taken out from the rubble. For protection, they were lying on top of my mother. But because of this, they both lost their lives.

Cecile now lives with Celal and his family so they can look after her. After the earthquakes the family initially slept in the car through fear of aftershocks. They then slept together in one room. The earthquake had a big impact on Celal’s daughters. They insisted on sleeping near the door so they could escape in the event of another earthquake. And it really impacted their studies.

The impact [on my daughters] is psychological. They were both preparing for exams – high school and university entrance exams. But now, they cannot go to the place where they were studying because it collapsed and they must work in our home where there’s very little room. It also means a constant reminder of what has happened.”

Celal and his family received a tent, hygiene kit, solar lights and blankets from ShelterBox working with Rotary. They planned to put the tent up in the garden. This would allow them to sleep soundly at night without worrying about aftershocks. Despite this, Sibel still looked forward to a time when life could return to normal.

We would hope to move back into our home. Almost everything we had before the earthquake has changed – there’s no order, no peace, no sleep.”

“Now that we have left, we feel like we have died”

Woman in side profile sitting outside a tent in Syria
Shamsa had already been forced from her home due to the conflict in Syria. When the earthquake struck, she lost what little possessions she had

Imagine being forced from your home due to violent conflict. And then imagine seeing what little you had left wrecked in an earthquake. This happened to 70-year-old Shamsa.

Shamsa and her family had to leave their home in Syria due to the violent conflict taking place there. Shamsa remembers life before she was displaced, and regrets what was lost. “Our affairs were good. We lived in houses with farmland, we had everything available to us. The planes above us were bombing us. We left our house because of the airstrikes. We left because we no longer felt safe. We would not have survived if we stayed in our home, so we left. Now that we have left, we feel like we have died.

Life in the displacement camp she now lives in has been hard for Shamsa and her family. When the earthquake struck, this became a nightmare. “When the earthquake occurred, tents and mud fell on us. Mud piled up on us and we then stood on the ground with rain falling on us. We lost the aid we had, nothing remained.”

Shamsa added, “Before, we were sitting in the dirt, and the tents were torn apart above us. As you can see, I carry a needle and thread and sew up our tent during the winter to make sure we have a shelter.” Working with Bahar organisation, ShelterBox supported Shamsa with a tent and cash assistance. Shamsa used the cash to pay off debts and buy food. She was pleased with the cement floor of the tent, more durable than mud.

Shamsa was still worried about the approaching Syrian winter. However, she finished with a thank you to our team. “We thank them for their efforts, and wish them luck.”

“It felt like the ground was going to collapse in on us”

Woman standing next to damaged staircase outside a house in Turkey
Dilek’s house was very badly damaged in the earthquake. She was still waiting to hear if it needed to be pulled down due to being unsafe.

Like many impacted by the earthquake in Türkiye, Dilek was asleep when it struck.

We were all fast asleep. We happened to be sleeping altogether in the living room as it was quite cold, which we are so thankful for as it saved our lives. As a result of the earthquake, a lot of things around the house collapsed, even in our bedrooms where we should have been sleeping.”

Fortunately Dilek and her family were able to escape outside. But the danger was far from over. “Even then, we could hear things falling inside the house. We were so frightened. It felt like the ground was going to collapse in on us.

When we were outside, we were all hugging each other to keep ourselves still. But the earthquake was so powerful that we kept falling; it was also raining so the ground was already very unstable.”

After the earthquake Dilek spent two nights staying with her sister-in-law. She then moved to a ‘tent site’ set up for families after the earthquakes. But after bad weather knocked down many of the tents, Dilek decided to move back home. The house was badly damaged.

Right now, the home is registered as 50 percent damaged, so we are waiting to hear whether it needs to be demolished because it is too unsafe. We feel like we are in limbo. We hope to stay in the house, but we really do not know yet.

We were able to support Dilek with a tent, hygiene kit, mattress and blankets. Dilek planned on using the tent to sleep at night, helping her family sleep more securely.

When asked if she wanted to add anything else to add, Dilek wanted to say thank you. “We just want to say thank you. We are so grateful for your presence here.”

“The children were shivering from the cold”

Woman watering a plant next to a tent in Syria
When Badrah first arrived at a displacement camp after the earthquakes, she had to sit in the mud and sew up the tents to use them. She now has a new tent and household items.

Before the earthquakes, Badrah and her family lived in a two-bedroom house in a village in Syria. She remembers it fondly.

“We were happy, we had a door that kept your belongings and water safe. Everything was in order.”

When the earthquake struck. Badrah and her children were able to escape their home. All their belongings were left behind as they fled into the night. “The children were shivering from the cold. The rain and sleet made it very difficult.” Their home was badly damaged. “The earthquake caused people to scream and be afraid. Many people died. The wall of our house fell but thankfully my family were not harmed.”

The family were forced to seek shelter in a nearby camp. The conditions there were very harsh. “We sat on the dirt. The tents were worn out. We sewed them up because they were in such bad condition… We didn’t have enough blankets and clothing. It was a very bad situation.”

Badrah received from ShelterBox and Bahar Organisation a new tent, household items. They also received cash assistance.

They gave us tents with equipped floors, they gave us sponges, and they gave us cash. We benefited and our situation became better. The children needed clothes, we wanted to buy clothes and food. We were able to pay some of our food debts.”

Thanks to the aid, Bahar’s conditions have improved. “As for this tent, this is better than the old tent. The floor is prepared, not worn out, and does not need sewing up daily.” However, she was still worried about the freezing Syrian winter. “The problem with a tent is that it is very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter, and the cold winter has come.

“Thank God we are alive”

Three people standing in front of a tent after the earthquakes in Turkey
Huseyin, his wife Songul, and son Kamil outside the tent they received after the earthquake in Türkiye

When the earthquake struck Türkiye, Huseyin and his family were staying with his mother. The stress of the earthquake caused Huseyin to have a panic attack and vertigo. As a result he stayed inside during the earthquake and could not get outside until after it was over. His wife, Songul, chose to stay by his side. She remembers the terror of that evening.

That night, I didn’t think we would survive. My husband’s head started spinning, I could not leave him even though he told me to. I thought the house would fall over our heads. The screams from my son outside the house… he was screaming ‘Mum, Dad, please get out. Please come out’ but we weren’t able to. That fear, that worry...”

Many were killed inside the family’s building. Since the earthquakes Huseyin has been out of work. His son, Kamil, has also been unable to go to school. Huseyin is very worried about the impact of the earthquake on Kamil. “His fears and anxiety [are a concern]. Psychologically he was very affected. He kept asking me ‘am I going to die?’”

Through this hardship the family have remained close. They were supported with a new tent, household items, and solar lights from ShelterBox, working with Rotary. This has helped improve their living conditions. “[The tent] has really helped because for a week we slept in the car. It was cold and cramped. But now, we can sleep in our tent … we find comfort in this. Many thanks and much gratitude.

Huseyin and his family can now look ahead to the future. “My mother-in-law might give us a small plot of land. On there I will make a small, prefabricated house or a big container. We will not live in a building because we are too afraid of them now. Two or three rooms is enough, as long as we can be together.”

“The only thing I think about now is ‘Thank God we are alive’. I hope my son passes his exams and goes to a good school.”

Our video ‘In the Cold Night’ narrated by Imelda Staunton is based on the experiences of people caught up in the Türkiye and Syria earthquakes. It features a story by Sarah Tagholm and illustrations by Karen George.

We have now finished our distributions of aid in Türkiye. In Syria our work continues as we support people not only impacted by the earthquake but by the many years of violent conflict there. And this is just one of many countries where we are supporting people with emergency shelter.

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