Olympic athlete haunted by the horrific aftermath of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria

As I walk down the street, I see entire families on the sidewalk, setting up makeshift bedrooms and dining rooms. They try to build some sort of normalcy for their children, but you can tell they are barely hanging on by a thread.

  • 8 months ago
  • April 6, 2023
4 min read
Nicolás Bruno is a professional Argentine volleyball player, and former member of his country’s team. He participated in the 2012 London Olympics, and won the bronze medal at the 2009 Pune World Youth Championship. He is currently part of the Turkish team at Halkbank Ankara.
A month and a half after the earthquake that rocked southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria, killing over 50,000 people, bulldozers are still removing rubble and demolishing half-collapsed buildings. The task is daunting, adding up to around 200 million tons of concrete, bricks, metal, and wood, according to calculations by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The Government of Ankara promises to recover the housing stock of the devastated area within a year. The Chamber of Architects attributes the rush to the proximity of the elections.

ANKARA, Turkey — On February 6, 2023, in the middle of the night, my girlfriend and I heard a loud noise in our apartment. The door suddenly opened, and we woke up startled. We believed it was caused by the wind, unaware of the tragedy unfolding in our country. I feel haunted by the images I witnessed. 

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A tragedy that took the lives of over 50,000 people 

My girlfriend and I live in Ankara, in northwest Turkey. The earthquake happened 700 kilometers from our home, yet we felt the wave of aftershocks. As we slept in our apartment on the ninth floor, we heard the door open abruptly.  I immediately got up to close the door and see what happened. I assumed the wind caused it and went back to bed. Twenty minutes later, we heard a loud noise and the door opened again. We started to feel scared and worried. I went back to close it, this time double locking the door. After some time, we fell back to sleep. 

The next morning, when I woke up, I saw multiple messages on my phone from concerned friends and family. As I read them, my heart started beating out of my chest. I felt a rush of anxiety as fear coursed through my body. The earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria had a magnitude of 7.5 out of 10 on the Richter scale. It destroyed everything. Entire cities turned to dust, with more than 50,000 lives lost.

I spent the entire day reassuring loved ones, and reading updates about the situation, refreshing the news every few seconds. At around noon, the door opened again. We stared at it, baffled. Hours passed since the earthquake, and we still experienced aftershocks. Many of us blame the government for the poor structure of the buildings that collapsed. The country received a large sum of money to stabilize the buildings in case of an earthquake. However, nothing was ever done. They never expected the worst to happen, and yet it did.  

Millions of families sleep on the street, amidst the rubble 

For days, my girlfriend and I cried, unable to sleep. We could not stop thinking of all the people who lost everything, those still trapped under the rubble, and the people sleeping outside. Thousands of buildings fell to the ground in seconds. I discovered that a volleyball team was staying at a hotel that collapsed entirely. The images broke my heart. I visited friends and family nearby, and I saw the immense suffering in their eyes. I felt powerless to do anything.

A month has passed since the earthquake happened, and more than a million people continue to be homeless, sleeping on the street. Some people live in tents, while others moved in with other survivors in a small room. They receive little supplies and lost everything they owned. It felt difficult to focus on anything else. I just wanted to help but did not know where to begin. As I walk down the street, I see entire families on the sidewalk, setting up makeshift bedrooms and dining rooms. They try to build some sort of normalcy for their children, but you can tell they are barely hanging on by a thread. While organizations try to help with donations, the future of the country remains uncertain. 

All photos courtesy of Carola Danza and Cascos Blancos.

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