After the earthquake in Turkey: stranded in a tent camp


Status: 02/16/2023 11:15 a.m

After the earthquake in Turkey, many people live in tent camps – many want to leave. Evacuation centers are supposed to organize this, but the reality on the ground is different. Often people are on their own.

By Karin Senz, ARD Studio Istanbul, currently in Kahramanmaras

At the Kahramanmaras bus station on the outskirts of town, one tent is lined up after the other. A large advertising truck from a well-known tea manufacturer is parked in the central square and is serving its product free of charge. Opposite, helpers have set up pallets as a temporary barrier. Cardboard boxes with relief supplies are stacked behind them. In another square, an Israeli aid organization is handing out canned goods and sweets from a truck.

Helpers and those stranded hug each other again and again. Tugba is one of them. The 38-year-old walks through the camp with two of her four daughters. Everything seems relaxed. But at least as far as Tugba is concerned, appearances are deceptive: “There is no hygiene, diseases, viruses and bacteria are everywhere,” she says. “Now there are said to have been cases of scabies here on February 12. Because there is no bathroom. It’s not clean. We’re careful, but others don’t care at all.”

People are waiting for relief supplies in the tent camp in Kahramanmaras.

Image: Karin Senz

“We have to get out of here”

Tugba is wearing leggings, a baggy sweatshirt and hat, all a bit dirty. She has a rash on her face. She just wants to get away from here – absolutely – to Ankara. There is already one of her husband’s employees. He says there’s still room. Istanbul is out of the question for them. It is also at risk of earthquakes. She cannot expect her four daughters to do that. They startle when the wind blows through the tarpaulin because they think it’s another earthquake.

“Our children will break down mentally if we stay here. They would then feel the same way as me,” says Tugba. “Because of them alone we have to get out of here. I’m a mother, I can usually shoulder the situation somehow. But they can’t stand it.” She cries. One of the girls also had tears rolling down their cheeks. She wipes them off with a handkerchief and gives one to her mother too.

Search for a list

Last week, the president of Turkey’s civil protection agency AFAD, Yunus Sezer, said: “We call on our citizens to go to the evacuation centers and sign themselves on lists there. The names and identification numbers of the people who are to be evacuated will then be given to the evacuation authorities in the respective arrival cities – Coordination bodies sent. Citizens know which city and accommodation they need to go to.”

One such evacuation center is attached to the Tugba tent camp in Kahramanmaras. At least that’s what it says on the AFAD website. But there are no lists here. So Tugba keeps asking the management of the tent camp when the buses leave: When exactly and at what time, she asks a volunteer from AFAD. He has to admit he has no idea. But if he doesn’t know, how is she supposed to know, Tugba replies. There are loudspeaker announcements, says the man in administration. Tugba explains that their tent is at the other end of the camp. How is she supposed to know? She remains polite despite her desperation.

Suddenly there is an announcement: It’s about a child who has lost his parents. You can pick up little Hüsam here.

After a few minutes, an AFAD employee joins in the conversation with Tugba: “We only take care of the camp here. You can go to the AFAD office. That’s in the city police headquarters. They can help you there.” But how is she supposed to get there? Tugba doesn’t have a car. She is more or less trapped in the camp with her family.

Completely destroyed houses in Kahramanmaras

Image: Karin Senz

Just ran out when it trembled

And then it comes up again. They simply ran out during the earthquake and couldn’t take anything with them. Once she was in town after that. Soldiers brought her to pick up medicine at the hospital. What she saw was no longer her city.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to heal these wounds at some point. We certainly can’t do it alone, only together. But we’re done with Kahramanmaras.” The city is a wasteland. The 38-year-old believes that it must be completely torn down and rebuilt, but without her.

Tugba makes it out – but not on the bus

In fact, she and her family make it out of the camp two days later, but not on an official evacuation bus. A truck with supplies from Ankara picks them up on the way back. And they have already found an apartment – through friends. A new life can begin for her, her husband and their four girls – far away from the hopelessness in Kahramanmaras.

Stranded in Tugba tent camp awaiting evacuation from earthquake zone

Karin Senz, ARD Istanbul, February 16, 2023 at 9:32 a.m

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