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Tuesday, August 24, 1999 Published at 19:18 GMT 20:18 UK

Finding words for Turkey's plight

The survivors must go on living among the ruins

by Paul Adams in Adapazari and Golcuk

It is a week since Turkey was hit by the worst earthquake anywhere in the world for more than a decade. I arrived in the country a few hours after disaster struck, and started travelling between the various towns devastated in the tremor.

I find it hard to describe Adapazari, but on the long sweltering day I arrived there the impressions were vivid enough.

It may not help much, but the best comparison I can think of is parts of wartime Sarajevo - a similar and equally hideous architecture, cracking and peeling in the summer sun.

Turkey Earthquake
Buildings slumped down on their foundations, balconies concertinaed, walls lurching at insane angles. Rubble, broken glass, suffering and perhaps a measure of resignation too.

In Sarajevo it took two years and the Bosnian Serb army to achieve this dismal effect.

In Adapazari, Golcuk, Izmit and parts of Istanbul it took an act of God just 45 seconds long. They say that Turkey moved two metres closer to its arch rival Greece in the course of that truncated minute. It is the kind of seismic diplomacy the people of this devastated region could well do without.

Hope over reason

In Adapazari's main square, a stern statue of modern Turkey's founder, Kamal Attaturk, looked down on a sea of destruction.

Right across north-western Turkey squares and streets bearing his name now lie in ruins.

[ image: By now all hope of finding more survivors has gone]
By now all hope of finding more survivors has gone
Over and over again, in the days immediately after the earthquake, the same drama played out. Was someone there trapped alive under slabs of concrete, as desperate relatives insisted, or was this yet another case of hope over reason?

Relief workers with exhausted sniffer dogs arrived to look for signs of a body. The dogs bark if they smell the living or the dead. But there were no barks at the site where I watched and soon the crowd started to melt away.

When the search for survivors ends, the bulldozers move in. What the earthquake started, men and machines must finish.

Across the city 11 people were pulled out alive that morning - 11 miracles to set aside the heart-numbing parade of the dead. It was such a rare event that I only ever managed to see one on television.

It was a young boy, bewildered but astonishingly not hurt. Onlookers applauded as he was carried out over the ruins of his home to a waiting ambulance. A little round of applause amid the incessant din of jack-hammers, sirens and howls of grief.

After rows of corpses wrapped in blankets, it was the sight of a survivor that finally brought tears to my eyes.


In Golcuk they rescued a baby just two weeks old. I thought back to February when my own son, William, premature and fragile, entered our lives for the first time. Even wrapped up in his mother arms, his existence seemed astonishing enough. Neglecting him for more than a minute would have been unthinkable. But the baby in Golcuk lay under the rubble, his dead mother beside him, for 15 hours.
[ image: Written off: Reconstuction is still a far-off dream]
Written off: Reconstuction is still a far-off dream
When I went to Golcuk, it was somehow was worse than Adapazari: not in terms of the level of destruction which was by now wretchedly familiar, but the mood which was ugly and desperate.

By then, more than 72 hours had passed, about as long they say as someone can expect to survive in such conditions.

The dawning realisation that hope was fading fast added a new dimension to Golcuk's misery. Nor, it seemed, were the authorities doing much to improve matters.

The army, so much in evidence the day before in Adapazari, was entirely absent.


All along the main road a solid logjam of vehicles crawled and cursed its way in both directions amid clouds of dust and petrol fumes. The job of keeping lanes open for the rescue services had been entrusted to angry young vigilantes who wielded sticks and in some cases guns.

Nearby the sea had invaded - a tidal surge sweeping away a seaside park in the minutes that followed the earthquake.

The town is proud of its sculpture garden. But now the only work of art left standing was a trio of elongated female figures, carved from driftwood, marooned by the encroaching water, looking forlornly out over the Sea of Marmara.

Across the bay flames and smoke still belched from Turkey's largest oil refinery - a poisonous mix of oil and sewage slopped noisily over the redefined shoreline. The town was bracing itself for disease.

My guidebook says this entire region, industrial and heavily populated, is "best written off" - and that in the early hours of last Tuesday morning is precisely what happened.

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