In earthquake-shattered Antakya, darkness only brings more fear

In earthquake-shattered Antakya, darkness only brings more fear

Follow the latest on the earthquake in Turkey

In any city, night time offers a different perspective. Street lights come on and streets take a different shape. But in the ruined city of Antakya, the darkness brings only terror.

The city in Turkey’s southern Hatay region is among the worst hit by the powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake that shook Turkey and Syria on Monday, killing more than 22,000.

The scale of the destruction seems to belong to an apocalypse movie. Buildings have collapsed in ways that seem to defy the laws of physics, creating odd, ghoulish shapes. Some look like a crushed accordion, while others have crumbled into a thousand pieces.

A house alarmingly leans on one side; a few metres away, another completely seemingly fallen over as if it has tripped over the street.

None of the building in Antakya are habitable: even the standing ones are totally empty, cut off from electricity and water.

Before the earthquake struck, the city was a bustling place of safety for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing civil war just 12 miles away in Syria.

Known as Antioch in ancient times, the city is a melting pot of cultures, food and languages, but today its residents sleep in the open air or makeshift camps.

As darkness falls, the lack of light sources and suspended ochre dust create a surreal feeling.

Traffic is chaotic; highly damaged roads are filled with cars, buses, and ambulances whose wailing sirens relentlessly pierce through the noises of rescues in progress.

Only sporadic fires light up the pitch-black city, releasing an acrid stench which stays with you for hours after.

Around those fires huddle those made homeless by the disaster, dressed in thick clothing to fend off the worst of the freezing temperatures.

Countless families have yet leave the city, sleeping in their cars or even directly on the ground in lieu of any safe accommodation.

The streets are also full of volunteers. Enshe, 27, came all the way from Istanbul to take part in the emergency assistance. Sat around a fire with his friends.

“Antakya was such a beautiful city and now there is nothing left, people have nowhere to stay,” he said.

“I don’t care about sleeping”, he said, adding he plans to stay at least a week as the glances at friends sleeping under a blanket next to the fire.”

Sleep might be tough to come by even if he wanted to get his head down.

“I’ve never seen that many dead bodies,” he said solemnly.

Esin, 27, another volunteer, says there are “no words” to describe the situation.

“It breaks my heart, only helping people will allow me to think of something else”.

The only other meaningful source of light comes from rescue missions, spending sleepless nights to recover bodies days after the disaster. The hope of finding anyone alive is dwindling.

At one search site of a collapsed five floor building, rescuers told The National that found only a dead body this day, a 9 year old girl. Under a violent light, the crane is pursuing its work, hoping for a miracle.

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