© Reuters. Abdulalim Muaini lies under the rubble next to the body of his wife Esra, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, February 8, 2023. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
HATAY, Turkey (Reuters) – Peering out from under a large slab of concrete and brick, Abdulalim Muaini gestures weakly at his rescuers. It has been over two days since a massive earthquake brought his home in Hatay, Turkey, tumbling down upon him.
Close beside him lies his wife Esra. The rescue has come too late for her.
Reuters photographer Umit Bektas was on the second day of his assignment in Hatay, one of the places hardest-hit by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that has killed more than 11,500 people across southern Turkey and northern Syria.
Heading towards one of the city’s most damaged neighbourhoods, he asked the search and rescue volunteers the same question he had asked countless times: Did you reach anybody alive?
This time, they said yes: they had found Abdulalim.
Abdulalim’s legs were trapped underneath concrete but he was conscious and able to talk to his rescuers.
Umit was unable to speak directly with Abdulalim, but two of his friends were standing nearby. They said Abdulalim was of Syrian origin, from Homs. He had fled the civil war and married Esra, a Turkish woman. The couple had two daughters, Mahsen and Besira, they said. It was unclear what had happened to the girls.
Rescues can take a long time and some hours later Umit returned, where he eventually saw Abdulalim being pulled out of the rubble. He was covered in grey dust, one eye was swollen, he was dehydrated and needed medical attention. But he survived.
His family did not. On the ground lay three bodies wrapped in blankets – Esra, Mahsen, and Besira.
(Photography and reporting by Umit Bektas; Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Daniel Wallis)