Serkan Tatoglu has been haunted by the question his six-year-old has been asking ever since their home collapsed in Turkey’s earthquake last week.
“Are We Dying?” she wonders as she looks up at scenes reminiscent of an apocalyptic movie set.
Coffins line the road and ambulance sirens blare around the clock.
As they walk through the rubble of collapsed buildings, children watch rescuers pull body bags from the foul-smelling rubble.
Tatoglu helped his four children, aged between six and 15, escape their home after the first magnitude-7.8 quake hit southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria on February 6.
Their building collapsed during one of nearly 3,000 aftershocks. More than 35,000 people have died across the region and the toll is likely to continue to rise for days to come.
Tatoglu lost nearly a dozen relatives.
But the 41-year-old knows he has to stand strong despite his excruciating heartache.
Tatoglu’s first task is to protect his children from the horrors that keep popping up in their minds as they await the aftershocks in a tent city near the epicenter of the earthquake in southern Kahramanmaras.
“The youngest, traumatized by the aftershocks, keeps asking, ‘Daddy, are we going to die?'” Tatoglu said.
“She keeps asking about our relatives. I don’t show them their dead bodies. My wife and I hug them and say ‘everything is fine’.”
‘I can’t do anything’
Psychologist Sueda Deveci of the volunteer organization Doctors Worldwide Turkey said adults need emotional support just as much as children in the aftermath of such a tragedy.
She said older generations realized more quickly how much their lives have changed and how much they have lost.
“A mother told me, ‘Everyone tells me to be strong, but I can’t do anything. I can’t take care of my children, I can’t eat,'” Deveci said while working in the tent city.
Deveci gains a better understanding of what the kids are feeling through what they draw as they pass the time in the cold.
“I don’t talk to them much about the earthquake. We’re drawing. We’ll see how much of it is reflected in their drawings,” she said.
For now, their art is mostly normal.
According to children’s rights expert Esin Koman, this is because children adapt to their environment faster than adults.
But she added that the quake’s destruction of existing social support networks has left them dangerously exposed to long-term trauma.
“Some children have lost their families. There is no one to give them mental support now,” Koman said.
“Where is my mother?”
Psychologist Cihan Celik posted on Twitter an exchange he had with a paramedic involved in rescue work.
The paramedic told Celik that children pulled from the rubble almost immediately asked about their missing parents.
“The injured children ask, ‘Where is my mother, where is my father? Are you kidnapping me?'” the paramedic recalled.
Turkey’s vice president Fuat Oktay said 574 children rescued from collapsed buildings were found with no surviving parents.
Only 76 had been returned to other relatives.
A volunteer psychologist who works at a children’s shelter in Hatay province, where destruction was among the worst in Turkey, said many parents were frantically searching for missing children.
“We are getting a deluge of calls about missing children,” Hatice Goz said by phone from Hatay province.
“But if the child still can’t talk, the family can’t find it.”
Selma Karaaslan does her utmost to keep her two grandchildren safe.
The 52-year-old has been living with them since the earthquake in a car parked along one of Kahramanmaras’s rubble-strewn roads.
Karaaslan tries to talk to them about everything except the earthquake. She thinks they are much less likely to have lasting memories of the disaster if she fills their heads with happy thoughts.
But the questions keep coming.
“Grandma, will there be another earthquake?” the six-year-old asked at one point.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)
Featured video of the day
Exclusive: No rivalry in Congress, ready to become prime minister, Ashok Gehlot tells NewsMadura