Earthquake survivors in Turkey cling to hope as they wait in the cold and dark

CBC Radio's As It Happens spoke with two earthquake survivors in Turkey late Monday night, as they waited amid freezing temperatures and blackouts for some sign of news or aid.

3,400 people killed in Turkey and Syria — a number that is expected to rise

A woman and four young girls sit around a fire with exhausted expressions on their faces.

As It Happens7:14Earthquake survivor in Turkey clings to hope as he waits in the cold and dark

Barış Yapar is trying to stay calm, take care of his parents, and most of all, hold onto some semblance of hope.

The university student was spending Monday night in a car with his parents, waiting and praying that someone would turn up soon to dig his grandparents out of the rubble of their apartment in Samandag, Turkey.

It was already close to midnight when he spoke to CBC Radio on the phone from a dark and freezing car park, surrounded by other families in the same desperate situation.

"We're not receiving the help that we are supposed to. We are just, like, left out in the dark and everybody's just trying to do what they can," he told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

"It's been around 19 hours, and my grandparents are still under the ruins."

More than 3,400 people were killed and thousands more injured in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the region in the early hours of Monday. The death toll is expected to rise.

It's not clear how many people — dead or alive — remain trapped beneath the rubble. Officials say they have deployed thousands of search and rescue workers to the hardest hit areas.

But in Samandag — some 200 kilometres away from the epicentre in Gaziantep — people are mostly going it alone, Yapar says.

Some are digging with their bare hands. Others are calling in favours from friends who have access to any kind of equipment that can be used to dig.

"If you do not have such tools and such connections, you're simply waiting out in the dark and hoping that, essentially, they will come," he said.

Rescuers and residents search for survivors at the site of a collapsed building.

Jolted from their beds in the middle of the night

Like most people, Yapar was in bed asleep when the quake first hit shortly after 4 a.m. Monday, local time, waking him and his parents.

They rushed out of bed and down the two flights of stairs to the ground floor, got in their car and drove about 500 metres to his father's parents' apartment to check on them.

"When we got there, I mean, three buildings — including theirs — were simply collapsed," he said.

His father started screaming his parents' names. Yapar joined in. But nobody answered.

As he waited for help, he watched people pull their dead loved ones from the rubble. Some of the dead, he said, were people he'd known since he was a boy.

He watched in horror as the body of one of his childhood friends was removed. There were no ambulances in sight, so one of his relatives loaded him onto the front of a digger, and carried him to the morgue.

"It was really soul crushing," Yapar said. "I don't think I'm yet able to understand what it means for me or how I feel about it, but I think it'll take some time to process these things."

His mother, he said, helped him and his father pull themselves together, and they called for help from everyone they could think of — hospitals, the governments, aid groups.

But nearly 20 hours later, nobody had shown up.

'People just were panicking'

About 200 kilometres north in the Turkish city of Adana, Şule Can and her family were also waiting on Tuesday night.

The political science professor was holed up with her husband Süleyman Sayar and their two-year-old daughter Eva Deniz at her office at the Adana Science and Technology University, trying to stay warm amid widespread power outages.

Like Yapar, she and her family were asleep when the quake struck.

"Immediately, I just, like, grabbed my daughter and jumped out of the bed," she said.

LISTEN | Eartquake survivor in Adana:

As It Happens6:44Family flees earthquake with 2-year-old daughter

The family huddled together in a door frame, waiting for the quake to pass. It felt like forever, Can said, but in reality, it was about two minutes. Just when they thought the coast was clear, an aftershock shook the building again.

When it finally stopped, they took off as fast as they could down six flights of stairs.

"We were just like, run, run, you know, let's go," she said. "We got in the car and we started driving. That's it."

People work atop, and gather around, a huge mound of rubble between heavily damaged buildings.

On the drive, they took in the devastation. Their own building was still standing, but many others were not.

"People just were panicking. And of course, there was a terrible traffic jam. We barely moved … down the street," Can said.

"As we moved, we saw more and more people just coming out, not knowing what to do… It is also freezing cold."

She has no idea where she'll go next, or when it might be safe to return to the city centre where she lives. She's waiting for word from officials.

The university, she says, is on safer ground, farther from the worst destruction. It's a relatively new campus, so there aren't many tall buildings, and plenty of open space.

A man and a woman stand by the water and smile. The man is holding a small child.

Can and her husband's immediate families all survived, she said, but she's already hearing about friends and distant relatives who didn't make it, or who remain missing.

"What people can do really is just be in solidarity, be there for each other," she said. "But at the same time, like, it feels terrible not to be able to do anything."

Holding onto hope

It's a frustration that Yapar knows well as he tries to stay warm in his car with his parents, unable to do anything about his missing grandparents.

He joined a WhatsApp group with more than 300 people impacted by the quake who are trying to help each other out.

"To read through these messages, it's all about people that are also in my situation, that are also trying to get their relatives out of the buildings and ruins and still not finding a solution," he said.

"I mean, you cannot take somebody out of a collapsed building without proper tools. I mean, it's not within human power to do that."

All he can do is wait — and hope.

"I need to hold onto this hope," he said. "I need something that keeps me going."

With files from The Associated Press. Interview with Şule Can produced by Morgan Passi. Interview with Barış Yapar produced by Kevin Robertson.

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