Remembering earlier earthquakes, Adana's elderly huddle together to stay warm

Two elderly Turkish women sit in a school-turned-shelter in Adana, Turkey, February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Emilie Madi

ADANA, Turkey (Reuters) - Wringing their hands in stunned silence, Adana's elderly were preparing to spend their second night on the wooden floors and worn sofas of a school-turned-shelter after the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey this week.

They fled on foot with almost nothing, helped by younger neighbours or relatives. Their children and teenage grandchildren dashed back into their now unstable homes for absolute essentials, mostly a few blankets and medicine packets.

In this city in southern Turkey the elderly now sat in wool hats in a chilly school auditorium – where at least temperatures were warmer than for those camping out around bonfires or in their cars outside. Many recalled their experiences of quakes in the past in this country that sits atop a fault line in the Earth's crust.

The tremor that struck in the early hours of Monday has killed at least 6,300 people across Turkey and Syria.

Kemal, 86, and his 60-year-old daughter had clutched onto each other as they wobbled down the four storeys of their shaking building – with only his walker in tow so he could make it to the school on foot.

"I wasn't afraid for myself, I was worried about my daughters," recounted Kemal, his legs lifted onto a second chair and tucked under a blanket to stay warm.

He was surrounded by his three daughters and their children – several generations of displaced.

One daughter said she had clambered back into their apartment to get the medications to treat illnesses in his heart, back and blood. "I kept thinking, 'I'm dying,'" she told Reuters.

Elife, who is 73, was more than 20 years younger when she survived the 1999 earthquake disaster in Turkey's Izmit that left more than 17,000 dead. This time was no easier, she said.

"We shook and we cried – me, my daughter, and my granddaughter," said Elife, cuddled on a pile of blankets on the wooden stage of the auditorium with her 15-year-old granddaughter Naime.

Koca Halil Budak - in his 80s - said he had survived an earthquake at age 8 and was lucky to have made it through his second, which struck when he was visiting his son in Adana.

"I tried to hold the cupboard, it was shaking... My son said 'dad don't be afraid,' so we got dressed and went outside," Budak said - also surrounded by his wife and their children.

One 62-year-old man in a charcoal grey tracksuit fled with his wife. She had a leopard scarf elegantly wrapped around her head and was fingering a glittering ring and staring blankly into the distance.

"This was the first earthquake of my life. When it hit, I had a hard time standing up," he said.

Apartment buildings around them were cracking and even collapsing as they walked together to the school, which they said was poorly staffed despite the best efforts of young volunteers.

"Inside it's okay. At least it's warm."

(Reporting by Maya Gebeily and Emilie Madi; Edited by Ali Kucukgocmen and Rosalba O'Brien)

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