'Nighttime is my nightmare'

BY MARIE DUPUIS | IZMIR, TURKEY | March 5, 2002



"I had been shaken off the couch I was sleeping on, like crumbs off a picnic tablecloth."

—Kaan Yildiz


Last week in Turkey a

quake west of Istanbul measured 4.1. Two more to the

east reached 4.8. Another shook Izmir. And the most

major damage was psychological.

Two and a half years after some 18,000 people died in

two massive earthquakes that struck Turkey, many still

live with fear.

Within hours after the first of the 1999 quakes, faith-

based disaster response groups launched a relief effort

that efficiently funneled compassion and financial

support from the U.S. and many other countries. Church

World Service, Action by Churches Together (ACT), and

many denominational groups worked with local partners in

Turkey to offer shelter, food, water, and medical

assistance.

They also offered spiritual care, with many local

partners continuing to do so. And many people in Turkey

report that ministry is still badly needed.

The temblor that rocked Turkey in the wee hours of Aug.

17, 1999 was more than four hundred times the force of

the atomic explosions that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki in

1945 the same month. Fishermen off the coast of Turkey's

Marmara province said they saw an underwater volcanic

eruption. The disturbance caused by the sudden buildup

of lava created destructive tidal waves that slammed

down on Golcuk -- a town 150 kilometers southeast of

Istanbul -- and that drew back with them all sections of

the city built on land reclaimed from the sea.

Some 700 kilometers away, the shake roared through fault

lines in the Aegean region, rocking creaky apartment

buildings and spilling panicked inhabitants into the

streets.

Twenty-three-year-old Kaan Yildiz said he still doesn't

sleep well. "Nighttime is my nightmare," said the Izmit

resident. "The frightening, scrunching glass sound of

breaking windowpanes is still in my ears. I get jittery

and I'm afraid of the dark, because that's when the

terror that still floods my dreams and haunts my waking

hours hit us."

His fiancee, 22-year-old Gulden Yildirm, said Yildiz has

been dealing with the emotional aftermath for a long

time. "When I first met him in November of 1999, a

passing bus vibration on the road was enough to send him

into a frenzy of acute fear. Due to the uninterrupted

replay running in his mind's eye, he didn't have a calm,

peaceful moment."

Yildiz remembered that the quake struck during hazelnut

harvesting season. "My mother Emine and I had gone to

our 3-and-a-half acre village property in Derbent,

approximately 30 kilometers from Izmit. Since it was

closer to his workplace, my father Bekir, an accountant,

had chosen to remain at our fourth floor apartment in

town. My eldest sister Hava, a married housewife, lived

in the capital city Ankara and my older brother Ferit

was in Giresun, 16 bus hours away, doing his military

service."

After a day of nut picking Yildiz and some of his

relatives went to their traditional two-story stone home

in the village. They went to sleep around midnight.

"About three hours later, I was startled out of a sound

sleep when my body hit the rough ground with a thud. I

had been shaken off the couch I was sleeping on, like

crumbs off a picnic tablecloth," remembered Yildiz. "The

earth beneath me had turned into a rocking cradle whose

vigorous swinging brought everything within reach to a

terrific tumble-crash crescendo of noise."

Groggy and disoriented, Yildiz didn't understand what

was happening and thought the world had come to an end.

"All at once, a distinct tone reached out and gripped

me, jolting me to my feet and propelling me towards the

door. It was the urgency of my mother's high-pitched,

panic-stricken screams."

In between wails and shrieks, his mother was shouting,

"Oh my God! It's the end of the world! Judgement day has

come!"

Yildiz said his mother then realized what was going on.

"She hollered at us, 'Earthquake! Quick! Everyone out.' "

Rushing toward the sound of her voice, Yildiz ran

straight into the door, which was normally always kept

open. "The quake's first wave had slammed and jammed it

shut," said Yildiz. "While pounding on it in my

desperation to get to my mother, the next second's shake

liberated it from its tight squeeze, and swung me with

it right into the wall.

"I dashed to where my mother was bellowing prayers over

the din and helped her get my eighty-five year old

grandmother out of the house to safety. Clinging to each

other as we scrambled into the garden, a blinding light

shattered the darkness of the night sky."

Yildiz later learned that this phenomenon was due to the

continuous explosions of gas pipes buried under the

ocean. "The indistinguishable brilliance illuminated the

countryside, even though we were over fifty kilometers

away from the coast. In our orchard, the elements seemed

to have swapped places. The firm, stony ground we were

used to treading tossed and reeled about under our feet,

as if we were walking the surface of a stormy, wind-

swept sea. Confusion and tension tore at our souls with

an iron hand. All our thoughts, worries, and prayers now

focused on my father."

Yildiz didn't know if his father was dead or alive. "I

was so frightened that my fingers and feet were

trembling uncontrollably. In between tremors, one of my

brave aunts dashed into the house to grab the phone and

a radio. Deep shock found us on our feet for what

remained of the night, alternating between phone calls

and listening to the radio, while the ground continued

its ceremonious shake, rattle, and roll display of

power."

Around noon the next day, relief washed over the family

as Yildiz's father - dumbfounded by the destruction that

swept the neighborhood he had spent the last 40 years in

-- stumbled into their arms. It had taken him more than

seven hours to reach his family -- normally a 15-minute

taxi ride.

It was a bittersweet rejoicing as Yildiz's family slowly

realized how many lives were lost.

Yildiz said his father also still feels the emotional

aftereffects of the quake. His father remembers flying

out of bed when the commotion first started and diving

to the doorframe of his room, where he stayed for 15

minutes. "Calling out to relatives on the various floors

beneath, he made sure that the stairs hadn't caved in

and then inched his way down, holding onto the iron

railing for dear life," said Yildiz. "At that same

moment, the fifth floor roof caved in and sent tiles

crashing down in every direction. By a miracle, not a

single one harmed my father, though this whole

experience has left him very shaken up emotionally. To

this day, the word earthquake does not pass his lips and

he refuses to talk about what befell him that night."

Izmit is home to most of Turkey's natural gas

refineries. The quake caused many explosions, remembered

Yildiz.

"The whole city and its surrounding villages could have

blown up, and most everybody in the Marmara province

would have died, if it hadn't been for the help of

German rescue helicopters and pilots who worked for

three or four days alongside Turkish troops to master

this incredible danger."

A couple days later, oil-filled black rain began pelting

the entire region. "And it wasn't just a slight drizzle

either," said Yildiz. "It was equal to being the

unfortunate ant on the receiving end of a dumped out,

bottomless cold cup of tea. Our grounds turned into

liquid mud swamps and whatever had been rescued from the

clutches of the earthquake was affected and ruined:

quilts, personal belongings, crops, animals. We

abandoned the plastic covering used for shelter until

now in favor of the 6-square-meter aluminum nut-sorting

hut.

"We sat in there like dumb sheep waiting for slaughter,

having no sense of time, hunger, nor other common needs.

My mother, a firm believer in work therapy for

overcoming psychological wounds, tried to urge us out of

our depression by three or four hours of daily nut-

picking, but we were too uptight to give her efforts a

positive response."

Three weeks later, Yildiz dared a venture into town.

"Fifty-six people died in the building next to us.

Rescue teams were still digging up corpses and bringing

them in blankets to the mosque for prayer and burial.

Our apartment stood in shambles and junk was strewn

everywhere, making it look like a thief had turned the

place upside down in his search for something precious."

Dashing in between tremors, Yildiz grabbed some clean

clothes, stuffed them in a bag, and then ran out.

"Twenty or twenty-five days later, my mother was brave

enough to risk sleeping in our village home. My father

and I preferred the safety of tents, sent to us by the

kindness of his boss in Ankara, which we pitched near

the chicken coops."

Everyday, Yildiz's father would go to work and then come

back to the village.

Then there was a severe aftershock measuring 5.3 on the

Richter scale.

"I was working in the garden with my mother, when the

ground went sliding from under my feet. My mother looked

like she was in a hammock, through she was sitting cross-

legged on the floor."

Yildiz's father was just stepping out of his workplace

when the building across the street went down in one

take -- all five floors of it.

"That was the most traumatic instance for him," said

Yildiz. "My father said, 'If only I had come out moments

later when the building was already flattened! I

wouldn't have had to see the young man run in to rescue

his family.' "

When Yildiz's eldest sister, Hava, came with her husband

from Ankara one month later, it was a very emotional

reunion.

"Besides the ghastly sights, many bodies hadn't been

reached yet and were steadily decomposing under the

rubble. The reek of death permeated the whole area."

Yildiz's sister and brother in law, seeing the strain

the family was under, invited him to travel away with

them. "I entered a house for the first time 86 days

after the Aug. 17 quake. I was restless and didn't sleep

until the 6 a.m. morning prayers."

Earlier this month, Yildiz was travelling from Izmir to

Ankara to visit his sister. "At 5 a.m., we passed Afyon.

At 9:11, a 6.0 earthquake hit. Wherever I go,

earthquakes seem to follow. Today, just the thought of

one is enough to render me senseless. I continue to pray

for them not to happen.

"Time has been a great healing factor. Though it cannot

change the past, it helps to soothe the pain and reminds

us that life goes on with much to look forward to."


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