My parents woke up in terror, screaming as the ground shook underneath us. I shouted at them to take cover. “It’s going to be over soon, it’s going to be over soon,” I yelled, even as it felt like it would never end.
It was just after 4:15 a.m. and I was at my parents’ house in Gaziantep, southern Turkey. The neighborhood was plunged into darkness when I felt the first shake.
I wasn’t too worried at first. It’s just another minor earthquake, the kind we feel every couple of months around here, I thought. But then the trembling got stronger and stronger.
Just a few seconds later, it became so shaky that furniture was falling over and I could hear objects smashing. My parents were screaming. “Stay under the door frames,” I yelled, begging them to keep calm.
The force felt like somebody trying to knock me over, I could feel the violent reverberations in my chest. I fell to the ground. The shaking kept going. It was minutes before it finally stopped.
We ran out of the house, in our pajamas and slippers. It was freezing cold and pouring down with rain. There was snow on the ground. The whole neighborhood was in the streets.
Twenty minutes in, just as we thought it may be over, the first aftershocks came. I counted 11, one after another.
I rushed back inside to grab some coats and proper boots and we jumped into a car to move into an open area, away from the buildings. I heard ambulances and fire trucks heading into the old town, which is full of older, more fragile structures.
The aftershocks kept coming during the day. Some were unbelievably strong. One struck when I was right next to a badly damaged large building. A civil defense official shouted at everybody to run.
Later, I drove to Pazarcık, a town of 35,000 people that’s closer to the epicenter. It felt like Armageddon. There’s at least one completely destroyed building in every single street.
A Syrian man who lives there told me that the building right next to his had collapsed. Someone – a woman, he said – was still inside when the building went down and the rescue workers were digging through the rubble trying to find her.
I stayed in Pazarcık for 30 minutes and, in that short time, I felt four aftershocks. It didn’t seem safe to stay, so I drove back to Gaziantep.
That’s when the ground started trembling again. It felt biblical. Everybody ran out of their cars. The shaking was so strong that I was barely able to stay on my feet. The water in the ditch next to the road was violently thrashing back and forth like in a storm.
People trying to get out of Gaziantep were stuck in a traffic jam that went on for several kilometers. There were cracks in the road and a smashed car on the side of the highway.
In Gaziantep, we are sheltering inside a mosque where it’s safer than in our house. Municipal workers have been distributing water, bread and warm rice.
I know it would be even safer to stay outside, in case there are more aftershocks. But the temperature is just above freezing. My parents can’t stay in the open.