Family that survived under rubble of Turkish earthquake looks to the future

Havva Arslan, husband and three children survived five days trapped under debris of five-storey apartment building

Tremors still rattle Turkey’s south one month after devastating twin earthquakes, however Havva Arslan, mother of three, finally feels safe in her small but sturdy container home.

Arslan, her husband and their three children survived for five days trapped under the rubble of their five-storey apartment building. The fact the whole family emerged alive makes theirs a rare survival story in the town of Nurdagi, where most buildings either collapsed or are marked for demolition.

It has been barely two weeks since the family was discharged from hospital and the five of them are trying to pick up the strands of what they call their previous life. They tentatively re-establish routines in their makeshift new home behind a petrol station.

“We were a well-off family. We had two homes and a car. We were thankful to God for all that. And we are thankful now, that all my kids are safe. I have no fears now that my family is beside me,” Havva said as she sat beside a wooden picnic table after a family breakfast.


Havva and her husband, Hasan, lost 36 of their relatives in the quake and the grief is raw. One of their surviving relatives, grandmother Arslan, lives in a container next door with a broken foot.

Acquaintances drop by to offer condolences.

Hasan, an accountant, says he will soon be ready to get back to work.

“Clients have started calling again. The governor sent town accountants a container, the guild will send a computer and printer. I’ll then begin where I left off,” Hasan says.

He points at a dusty metal safe containing documents salvaged from his collapsed office.

Both parents are happy that two of their children, one in the 4th grade and one in the 8th, are able to get back to classes.

“Kids need school,” Havva says, adding that authorities are setting up a school in a nearby tent city with children at first getting back for two days a week.

Eldest daughter, Fatmagul (19), has begun preparing for university entrance exams, which she is due to take in a few months.

“I wanted her to study but only when she felt she could, so I waited,” Havva said.

“One day I woke up, opened my eyes and saw her sitting by the table studying. 'We have to start somewhere, mum', she said.”

On the night the quake hit, the parents and the three children rushed to hold each other when the violent shaking struck.

As walls collapsed around them, the floor beneath gave way and the Arslan family fell one floor down, with the four floors above crashing down around them seconds later.

They were trapped in a pitch-back space, with no food or water and no idea of how much time was passing as the hours turned into days.

After a while the family, starting with the parents, began hallucinating.

“I was hungry. I was seeing apples and oranges but couldn't hold them. My mother was speaking on a phone that she didn't have,” Fatmagul said.

In the end, a rescue team pushing through a crevice zeroed in on their cries for help.

“'My name is Fatmagul Arslan', I shouted. 'We're five people here. All of us are alive', I said.”

And then the moment of rescue: “Light came in through, I heard a sound and then saw the eyes of a man,” Fatmagul said.

The death toll in Turkey from the earthquakes has risen to nearly 46,000 with about 6,000 people killed in neighbouring Syria. – Reuters