It’s been a week since a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Turkey and Syria, claiming the lives of more than 36,000 people. Many tens of thousands more have been injured. Millions may be left homeless.
Few images have captured the devastation of the past week as starkly as a photograph of Mesut Hancer.
He was photographed holding the hand of his 15-year-old daughter, Irmak, under the rubble in the southern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter of the quake. He said she died at the moment it hit, with no chance of escape.
In an interview with CNN Turk Saturday, Hancer spoke about the lives behind the image that has come to define last week’s tragic disaster.
Irmak had been visiting her grandmother, Hancer said, and he spent three days trying to free her body from the rubble.
“It was awful. As soon as I heard the news, I rushed there. And with my own bare hands, with my own means, with great effort I tried to pull out my daughter. However, unfortunately, I couldn’t save my daughter,” Hancer said.
“Losing a mother, a father or siblings aside, losing a child is on another level of despair,” he said.
When Hancer arrived at the wreckage, the terrible reality of the situation became apparent.
“I didn’t have hope because there was a large girder on my daughter. Her waist up was free but below her waist under the rubble,” she was crushed, he said. “Unfortunately, during the earthquake, she died right there and then. She didn’t have a chance of survival.”
Hancer said he spent three days trying to free his daughter’s body from the rubble.
“With my own effort, with my own means, I reached her. I couldn’t ask anyone [for help], because there are a lot of people under the rubble,” he said.
The death toll in Turkey has reached 31,643, Turkish Emergency Coordination Center SAKOM said Monday. The confirmed death toll in Syria is 4,574.
Rescue efforts continue in both countries, but authorities have been overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the disaster. More than 5,700 buildings in Turkey have collapsed, according to the country’s disaster agency.
“I also talked with AFAD [the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency in Turkey], and they helped as much as they could. But they said they could not provide an excavator to that area,” Hancer said.
Hancer is grieving not only for his daughter. The earthquake struck when members of his family had traveled across Turkey to his mother’s house, where his daughter was staying.
“My mother, my two older brothers, my sister-in-law and her little daughter. There were seven people including my daughter. They were all under the rubble,” Hancer said.
Hancer’s home has also been badly damaged, he said, adding that he doesn’t have anywhere to stay. “We cannot enter our house because we don’t have the means. We are left outside.”
Thousands of families are facing similar grief and devastation.
Meanwhile, amid growing public anger over the government’s response to the disaster, Turkish authorities have carried out a wave of arrests of property developers accused of “negligence” over building collapses due to last week’s earthquake.