‘We’re being left to die’: Anger and frustration as search for trapped relatives continues

The people of Antakya are not only desperate, there is real anger here too.

“We are being left to die,” shouted one woman as residents used their bare hands to move rubble and rocks.

We saw others using hammers and pickaxes, any tools they could lay their hands on to try to reach relatives they say are buried below and who may just be alive.

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Another woman, Cagla Ezer, sobbed as she revealed she’d heard her brother calling out for help. She said he was calling out his name and begging for help.

“There were 25 people in that building alone,” she said pointing at a pancaked apartment block. “I tried to call AFAD [Turkey’s emergency co-ordination group] but no one came.”

A short distance away a string of people were crawling through the smashed window of a supermarket door and loading shopping trolleys full of goods.

Many carted food, chocolate bars, ready-made meals and snacks – but we saw one man carrying out a new television.

Others crawled out with big packs of toilet rolls. “We are hungry,” one young man told us, “and no one is helping us”.

It is a common theme here with resident after resident remonstrating with us about what they perceive to be the government’s lack of action here.

The Hatay mayor is from the main opposition party and has been vocally critical of government policies in the past, mentioning in the weeks before the earthquakes that the area was not well enough prepared for a disaster such as this.

Now the residents repeatedly told us they feel abandoned and let down by their government.

One resident who called himself Tahir said he’d travelled non-stop back from Bulgaria to help out with the relief effort.

He was shocked at how little organised emergency work there is in Hatay.

“People here are angry,” he said. “We don’t need words – we need help!”

Women wept next to him out of sadness, grief but also frustration. “They’ll be here soon enough when there’s an election,” one of the men shifting rubble told us.

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Volunteers digging with bare hands as shouts heard amid the rubble

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An election has been called by President Erdogan for 14 May in the midst of soaring inflation and global economic woes and is predicted to be one of the closest in years.

Hatay has a large refugee population and its proximity to Syria has seen many flee over the border to seek refuge here.

There are pockets of poverty everywhere here and many of the buildings are old. “Why weren’t the buildings better constructed?” Tahir asked us. “Why have we put money before life?”

There have been glimmers of hope. We saw a small baby being rushed to a waiting ambulance, drip attached and minutes later her mother, neck brace on and moaning softly, also being stretchered to safety.

But those moments have been far outweighed by the heartache of seeing groups burst into tears and howl in grief as body after body is pulled out and laid on top of the rubble which came crashing down on top of them.

Among them have been the very young – children whose lives ended far too early and with brutal abruptness.

Yet even as the region entered its second day after what’s described as Turkey’s worst earthquake disaster in a century, and amid continuing tremors and aftershocks, relatives clung desperately to even the smallest of small hopes that their loved ones may somehow be alive.

Every now and then, a rescuer will call for quiet and the crowd of onlookers, friends and relatives stand silently, their ears aching to hear even the weakest of cries.

“We’ve heard him. Yes, yes, yes, we’ve heard him,” Cagla said of her brother.

But the tears rolling down her cheeks indicated her realisation that while hope is still plentiful, time is very much in short supply.

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