ADIYAMAN, Turkey—A 17-year-old high school student has captured Turkish hearts after filming a farewell message to his loved ones as he was trapped beneath the rubble of his home during last week’s earthquake.
Taha Erdem and his family were asleep when a 7.8 magnitude quake struck their hometown of Adiyaman in the early hours of Feb. 6. Taha was abruptly woken by violent tremors shaking the four-story apartment building in a blue-collar neighborhood of the central Anatolian city. Within 10 seconds, Taha, his mother, father, and younger brother and sister were plunging downward with the building.
He found himself alone and trapped under tons of debris, with waves of powerful aftershocks shifting the debris, squeezing his space amid the mangled mess of concrete and twisted steel. Taha took out his cellphone and began recording a final goodbye, hoping it would be discovered after his death.
“I think this is the last video I will ever shoot for you,” he said from the tight space, his phone shaking in his hand as tremors rocked the collapsed building. Showing remarkable resilience and bravery for a teenager believing he was speaking his last words, he listed his injuries and spoke of his regrets and the things he hoped to do if he emerged alive. During the video, the screams of other trapped people could be heard.
“We are still shaking. Death, my friends, comes at a time when one is least expecting it.” says Taha, before reciting a Muslim prayer in Arabic. “There are many things that I regret. May God forgive me of all my sins. If I get out of here alive today there are many things that I want to do. We are still shaking, yes. My hand isn’t shaking, it’s just the earthquake.”
The teen went on to recount that he believed his family were dead, along with many others in the city, and that he would soon join them. But Taha was destined to be among some of the first saved from the destroyed building. He was pulled from the rubble two hours later by neighbors and taken to an aunt’s home. Ten hours after the quake, his parents and siblings were also saved by local residents who dug at the wreck of the building with their bare hands and whatever tools they could find.
When The Associated Press spoke to the family on Thursday they were living in a government-provided tent, along with hundreds of thousands of others who survived the disaster that hit southern Turkey and north Syria, killing more than 43,000.
“This is my home,” said Taha’s mother Zeliha, 37, as she watched excavators digging up their old life and dumping it into heavy trucks. “Boom-boom-boom, the building went down floor by floor on top of us,” she recalled, describing how she had kept yelling her son’s name while trapped under the debris in the hope that all five of them could die together as a family.
The Erdems’ younger children—daughter Semanur, 13, and 9-year-old son Yigit Cinar—were sleeping in their parents’ room when the quake hit. But Taha could not hear his mother’s calls through the mass of concrete. Nor could she hear her son’s cries in the dark, and both believed the other was lying dead in the destroyed building. It was only when Zeliha, her husband Ali, 47, a hospital cleaner, and the other children were taken to her sister’s home that they realized Taha had survived.
“The world was mine at that moment,” Zeliha said. “I have nothing, but I have my kids.”
The story of the Erdem family is one of many emotional tales of human fortitude to emerge from the widespread disaster area. Many vividly recount the horrors of being trapped beneath their homes. Ibrahim Zakaria, a 23-year-old Syrian who was rescued in the coastal Syrian town of Jableh on Feb. 10, told the AP that he survived by licking water dripping down the wall next to him, slipping in and out of consciousness and losing hope of survival in his waking moments.
“I almost surrendered because I thought I will die,” he said from his hospital bed. “I thought: ‘There is no escape.’”
In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, 17-year-old Adnan Muhammed Korkut, was trapped for four days before he was rescued. He told the private IHA news agency that he grew so thirsty that he drank his own urine. Muhammet Enes Yeninar, 17, and his 21-year-old brother were saved after 198 hours in nearby Kahramanmaras. He said they cried for the first two days, mostly wondering about their mother and whether she had survived, IHA reported. They later began to comfort each other—“talking about brotherhood” and eating powdered protein.
Also in Kahramanmaras, Aleyna Olmez, 17, was pulled free after 248 hours under the rubble. “I tried to pass the time on my own,” she said.
Stories of remarkable survival often emerge during disaster, especially following earthquakes, when the world’s media records the fading hope of recovering survivors as each hour ticks by. Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, a 16-year-old girl was rescued in Port-Au-Prince 15 days after an earthquake devastated the city. Three years later, a woman trapped under a collapsed building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was saved after 17 days.
By Robert Badendieck and Mucahit Ceylan
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