One year since the earthquake: Syrians recall moments of losing loved ones in Turkey

Rubble and collapsed buildings in the Pazarcık area of Kahramanmaraş province following the earthquake that struck several provinces in southern Turkey and northern Syria - February 10, 2023 (NTV)

Rubble and collapsed buildings in the Pazarcık area of Kahramanmaraş province following the earthquake that struck several provinces in southern Turkey and northern Syria - February 10, 2023 (NTV)


A full year has passed since the Feb. 6 earthquake that claimed the lives of more than 53,000 and injured over 107,000 others in Turkey, leaving behind 11 affected provinces and cities, many of whose neighborhoods have turned to rubble.

A few seconds were a decisive point in the lives of thousands of Syrian families in Turkey, some of whom were able to escape at the last moment, while others died under the debris.

“My family was under the rubble”

Hala Baru recalls the memory of the earthquake with grief and pain accompanied by tears. It was the last night she had with her family. On the night of February 6, 2023, they gathered to watch a family movie together in the city of Antakya, Hatay province, unaware that these hours would be their last together.

In the early hours of dawn, Hala fell from her bed as the ground began to shake, and her father called everyone to stay in place and not leave the house, fearing they would fall. Her younger brothers went out, and amidst the chaos, Hala ran outside looking at her mother, who was frozen in shock, and her father, who remained paralyzed in place.


I heard the sound of the building’s columns breaking. When I reached the entrance of the building, it collapsed. I looked back and knew that my family couldn’t make it out.

Hala Baru – A survivor of the Feb. 6 earthquake


Hala told Enab Baladi that she heard the sounds of the building’s columns breaking, and when she reached the door, the building collapsed with those inside. She survived after being pushed out by the pressure of the falling building. She looked back but her family was not behind her. She knew they had remained under the rubble.

The earth continued to move, preventing Hala from standing amidst the rain and collapsing power poles, and the city’s entire power supply was cut off.


It rained heavily that night, and the cold invaded our bodies. We could only hear the screams of people under the rubble without being able to help them, but my father, mother, and sister had no voice.

Hala Baru – A survivor of the Feb. 6 earthquake


Hala’s younger brother Taim was injured by a falling iron column onto his head during his attempt to escape, which required urgent intervention.

Hala called the ambulance, the fire department, and Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) from a survivor’s phone, and they told her they would come after sunrise.

After several days, the bodies of Hala’s father, mother, and sister were extracted by the rescue teams, and the forensic doctor informed her that the condition of her sister’s death suggests she had survived for hours under the rubble and died of suffocation.

After the earthquake

Hala, a graduate from the University of Gaziantep from the Child Development department, and her 20-year-old brother Ibrahim, who was in his final year at high school before the earthquake, were forced to work to pay their house rent and expenses and care for their 12-year-old brother Taim.


I have to work long hours to provide a decent life for my siblings. The earthquake set us back. We are now unstable and carry heavy responsibilities.

Hala Baru – A survivor of the Feb. 6 earthquake

Feb. 6 earthquake

The February 6 earthquake, which measured 7.7 on the Richter scale, was followed hours later by another 7.6 magnitude quake and hundreds of aftershocks, resulting in the death of 53,537 people in Turkey and injuring 107,213 others, according to the Anadolu Agency in Turkey.

Eleven Turkish provinces were affected, and 14 million people were impacted.

By February 2023, the total number of Syrian refugees in Turkey was around 3.5 million, with approximately 1.75 million of them residing in the southern Turkish cities hit by the earthquake, which accounted for 47% of the total refugees under the temporary protection system.

The number of orphaned children from the earthquake’s victims in Turkey was not specified. The Turkish “Yetim/Orphan” Foundation stated that approximately 7 million children were directly affected by this disaster, with 4.5 million in Turkey and 2.5 million in Syria.

“Do you hear my voice?”

Abdullah Halwani, a 22-year-old Syrian from Kahramanmaraş (the epicenter of the earthquake), told Enab Baladi that, despite a full year passing since the earthquake, it feels as if it were today.


“On the earthquake’s anniversary, my family gathered in one room today, fearing the scene might be repeated.”

Abdullah Halwani – A survivor of the Feb. 6 earthquake


Abdullah and his family survived the earthquake, and he headed to his sister’s house which was half an hour away on foot. Initially, he was not aware of the magnitude of the disaster before him, until he started to see buildings around him fall and turn into dust, and the bodies of victims filling the streets, dangling from buildings.

Abdullah, a nursing student in his third year, examined all the bodies he saw hoping to find a heartbeat, in vain. Most of the people in the streets had been struck by stones from neighboring buildings causing their death.

When he arrived at his sister’s house, he saw that the large building consisting of 5 floors, each containing 6 apartments, had completely collapsed, along with the surrounding buildings falling onto it.

Abdullah tried to shout into the pits of his sister’s demolished building, hoping to find a voice to guide him to the presence of survivors, but without success. He tried to help the rescue teams that started arriving on the third day of the earthquake, where 50 people were pulled out alive from the collapsed building, and 7 children’s bodies and 4 adults were extracted.

“I buried my sister with my own hands”

On the fifth day of the earthquake, February 11, the rescue teams were able to extract the body of Abdullah’s sister, her husband, and their four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Zainab.

Abdullah bought 6 body bags for the number of family victims. He said, “I took Zainab in my arms to the grave, she was dear to my heart, and her voice still echoes when she used to call me uncle.”

He added that he feels saddened and helpless by the way his sister was buried without funeral rites, no prayers, no washing, or the presence of her family, and said his deceased sister was the closest to him.

After six days, the rescue team reported hearing children’s voices from under the rubble, and they managed to extract the remaining three children of the family alive from the debris.

Now, Fatima, Aisha, and Khadija live in their grandparents’ house after losing their parents.


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