Nearly two weeks after a powerful earthquake toppled tens of thousands of structures and displaced millions of people in Turkey and Syria, many are still struggling to meet their basic needs, some sleeping in tents, factories, train carriages and greenhouses.
Those who lost their homes in the disaster zone describe a wide variety of current conditions: Some were able to find regular hot showers, but others fear freezing to death.
The Turkish government and dozens of aid groups have launched a massive aid campaign. The government reported on Wednesday that more than 5,400 cargo containers have been deployed as temporary shelters and more than 200,000 tents have been fielded, but the danger of a massive disaster remains.
The government reported that at least 84,000 structures, with more than 332,000 homes, were destroyed by the earthquake on February 6 or were too damaged to be used. There is no official figure on the number of people displaced on Turkish territory from the disaster region, which is home to some 14 million people, or 16% of the country’s population.
In the mountainous villages of Kahramanmaras province, locals struggle to stay warm during bitterly cold nights.
Buyuknacar, a village a few kilometers (miles) from the epicenter of the magnitude 7.8 quake, suffered severe damage, killing 158 people. Two days after the initial tremor, a military helicopter delivered supplies and on the fifth day land access was cleared.
Although the villagers have tents, they are too flimsy to protect them from the cold. Residents said they feared icy conditions in the mountains would lead to more deaths.
“Our basic need is, first, containers. The tents are not functional here,” explained Umut Sitil, 45. “People will freeze to death in the tents.”
On Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that 2.2 million people have left the disaster area. Of those, he said, the housing needs of 1.6 million have been met, including some 890,000 people located in public facilities such as student dormitories, and another 50,000 in hotels.
The Ministry of Transport reported on Wednesday that the government had helped more than 272,000 people to evacuate the area by air, sea and rail. However, many people prefer to stay close to their homes, either to protect their belongings, wait for the bodies of relatives to be recovered, or—in rural areas—to care for their livestock.
Others seeking protection from winter temperatures have turned to any structure that protects them.
Near the Mediterranean coast in Hatay, one of the hardest-hit provinces, farmers in Samandag district fled their damaged homes for large greenhouses normally used to grow tomatoes, taking with them as much bedding and kitchen utensils as they could get. save.
Residents noted that around 2,000 people now live under plastic covers. Many had lost not only their homes but also their livestock.
“There is no safe place apart from the greenhouses, because the houses collapsed in the earthquake,” explains Ozkan Sagaltici, in his 50s.