The cold threatens the survivors of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria: they have no home and suffer temperatures below zero

A man walks through the rubble of the earthquake with a warm blanket (AFP) (ADEM ALTAN /)

In the Turkish city of Gaziantephit by the earthquake, temperatures fell on Thursday to -5ºC in the morning. Despite the cold, thousands of families, who lost their homes, cannot return to it or, fearful of new aftershocks, live in vehicles or makeshift tents.

To mitigate the cold in their tents, parents they walk with their children in their arms and covered in blankets through the streets of this southeastern city, close to the epicenter of Monday’s earthquake, which caused more than 16,000 deaths in Turkey and Syria.

“When we sit down, it hurts. I’m scared for the people trapped under the rubblesaid Melek Halici, holding her two-year-old daughter, watching rescue teams work through the night.

An elderly couple sit at a table in a park in Gaziantep, close to the quake's epicentre, a day after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's southeast, on February 7, 2023. - Rescuers in Turkey and Syria braved frigid weather, aftershocks and collapsing buildings, as they dug for survivors buried by an earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people.  Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake's epicenter between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, a city of two million where entire blocks now lie in ruins under gathering snow.  (Photo by Zein Al RIFAI / AFP)
A couple sitting in a square in Gaziantep, located near the epicenter of the earthquake (AFP) (ZEIN AL RIFAI /)

“We’ll end up going to the store, but I don’t want to,” adds the woman. “I can not stand the cold, but I bear it more than the idea of ​​​​going back to our apartment, ”he explains.

The city authorities have prohibited thousands of inhabitants from returning to their homes, still judged too dangerous by the aftershocks that shake the region daily.

A child looks on as he wears a blanket in a street of Gaziantep, two days after a strong earthquake struck the region, on February 8, 2023. - The death toll from a massive earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria rose above 11,200 on February 8 , 2023 as rescuers raced to save survivors trapped under debris in the winter cold.  (Photo by Zein Al RIFAI / AFP)
The elderly and children, the most vulnerable to the intense cold (AFP) (ZEIN AL RIFAI /)

“We can’t go home”

Around the Halici family, smoke from dozens of bonfires fills the night air. Supermarkets and other businesses give families wooden pallets to burn.

Among the survivors, some found refuge in the houses of neighbors or relatives. Others left the region. But many have nowhere to go.

Gyms, mosques, schools and other shops welcome them at night. However, there are few beds and thousands of people spend the nights stuck inside the vehicle, with the engine running to give a little more heat.

“I have no other choice,” admits Suleyman Yanik, sitting in his vehicle next to a child playing with the wheel. His wife and another child sleep in the back seat. “The smell is terrible, but we can’t go home,” he says.

Thousands were left out in the open after the destruction of homes (Reuters)
Thousands were left out in the open after the destruction of homes (Reuters) (SUHAIB SALEM /)

Burhan Cagdas has been sleeping in his car since Monday because his family is “psychologically” not ready to return home. How many more nights will pass like this? This restaurant manager doesn’t know it yet, but he doesn’t think the family can last much longer.

Many grumble about government management of bailout efforts. In a visit to the region on Wednesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged “deficiencies” but insisted that “it is impossible to be prepared” for a catastrophe of this magnitude.

“Our children are frozen”

Near a castle from the 6th century, badly damaged by the earthquake, helpless families say that the authorities did nothing for them. Makeshift shelters were built with tarpaulins and wood thrown by others. “They could have at least given us tents,” says Ahmet Huseyin.

“Our children are frozen,” adds this 40-year-old father of five. “We had to burn the park benches and even some of the children’s clothes. there was nothing else”, he assures.

For Emel Osman, a 14-year-old whose family fled Syria to Turkey seven years ago, the authorities should have set up tents, “at least for the children.”

Although the stones of the castle hang threatening to fall on their shelters, these families say they can’t choose either, because they don’t have a car or other shelter.

(With information from AFP/by Tim Witcher and Burcin Gercek)

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