ADIYAMAN, Turkey (AP) — A 17-year-old high school student has captured Turkish hearts after filming a farewell message to loved ones while trapped under the rubble of his home during last week’s earthquake.
Taha Erdem and his family were fast asleep when a 7.8 magnitude tremor struck their hometown of Adiyaman in the early hours of February 6.
Taha was abruptly awakened by violent tremors shaking the four-story apartment building in a working-class neighborhood of the central Anatolian city.
Within 10 seconds, Taha, his mother, father and younger siblings all fell down with the building.
He found himself alone and trapped under tons of debris as waves of powerful aftershocks shifted the debris and squeezed his place amid the mangled jumble of concrete and twisted steel. Taha pulled out his cell phone and began recording one final goodbye, hoping it would be discovered after his death.
“I think this is the last video I’ll ever shoot for you,” he said from the cramped space, his phone shaking in his hand as tremors rattled the collapsed building.
He shows remarkable resilience and bravery for a teenager who thinks he has said his last words, listing his injuries and speaking of his regrets and the things he hopes to do if he gets out alive. During the video, the screams of other trapped people can be heard.
“We’re still shaking. Death, my friends, comes at a time when it is least expected,” says Taha, before reciting a Muslim prayer in Arabic.
“There are many things I regret. May God forgive me all my sins. If I get out of here alive today, there are many things I want to do. We’re still shaking, yes. My hand isn’t shaking, it’s just the earthquake.”
The teenager goes on to say that he believes his family is dead, along with many others in town, and that he will join them soon.
But Taha was destined to be among the first to be rescued from the ruined building. Two hours later, he was pulled from the rubble by neighbors and taken to an aunt’s home.
Ten hours after the quake, his parents and siblings were also rescued by local residents who dug at the destroyed building with their bare hands and whatever tools they could find.
As The Associated Press spoke to the family on Thursday, they were living in a government-provided tent alongside hundreds of thousands of others who survived the disaster that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria and killed more than 43,000 people.
“This is my home,” said Taha’s mother, Zeliha, 37, as she watched excavators dig up her old life and load it onto heavy trucks.
“Boom-boom-boom, the building was falling floor by floor above us,” she recalled, describing how she kept screaming her son’s name while trapped under the rubble, hoping that all five family could die together.
The Erdems’ younger children – 13-year-old daughter Semanur and 9-year-old son Yigit Cinar – were asleep in their parents’ room when the quake struck.
But Taha couldn’t hear his mother’s calls through the concrete mass. She couldn’t hear her son’s screams in the dark either, and they both thought the other was dead in the ruined building.
It wasn’t until Zeliha, her husband Ali, 47, a hospital cleaner, and the other children were taken home to her sister’s home that they realized Taha had survived.
“In that moment, the world was mine,” said Zeliha. “I have nothing, but I have my children.”
The story of the Erdem family is one of many emotional tales of human strength to emerge from the vast disaster area. Many speak vividly of the horrors of being trapped beneath their homes.
Ibrahim Zakaria, a 23-year-old Syrian man who was rescued in the Syrian coastal city of Jableh on February 10, told the AP that he survived by licking water that was dripping off the wall next to him, passing out repeatedly and lost hope of survival in his waking moments.
“I almost surrendered thinking I was going to die,” he said from his hospital bed. “I thought, ‘There’s no escape.'”
In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, 17-year-old Adnan Muhammed Korkut was trapped for four days before being rescued. He told the private news agency IHA that he became so thirsty that he drank his own urine.
Muhammet Enes Yeninar, 17, and his 21-year-old brother were rescued in nearby Kahramanmaras after 198 hours.
He said they cried for the first two days and mostly wondered about their mother and whether she survived, IHA reported. They later started comforting each other — “talking about brotherhood” and eating protein powder.
Also in Kahramanmaras, Aleyna Olmez, 17, was freed from under the rubble after 248 hours. “I was trying to pass the time alone,” she says.
Stories of remarkable survivability often surface during disasters, particularly after earthquakes, when the world’s media documents the dwindling hope for recovery of survivors as each hour passes.
After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, a 16-year-old girl was rescued in Port-Au-Prince, 15 days after an earthquake devastated the city. Three years later, a woman trapped under a collapsed building in Dhaka, Bangladesh was rescued after 17 days.
Badendieck reported from Istanbul.