It was exactly 4:17 a.m. and 19-year-old Ezgi Kübra was sleeping in her room. Urgent voices from the living room woke her up. As she got up, she noticed the ground shaking beneath her. She was somewhat used to earthquakes hitting, she said. Ezgi knows they’re not uncommon in Turkey.
Formerly an exchange student at Bloomington High School North, Ezgi has been back at home for nearly 10 months after a year away from her family. The comfort she felt was interrupted by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that night in Osmaniye.
“I felt the hit,” Ezgi said. “It was horrible.”
That early morning, she ran into the living room to reach her family, even though she was at risk of being hit by falling objects.
Ezgi and her 15-year-old sister were in their father’s arms and her 7-year-old sister with her mom. She said she could feel her mom’s fear — even as she tried her best to hide it for her children’s sake. All five of them hid behind their couches, hands covering their heads. They waited 65 seconds for the trembling to stop.
“I thought we were going to die,” Ezgi said. “It was too much time. ‘We’re going to die. We’re going to die.’”
They said they could hear the walls cracking all around them. The TV fell over, shattering on the floor. The dishes on the rack splintered into a million pieces.
After the shaking stopped, the family and their neighbors went into the garden outside their home to assess the damage. It was dark, and rain was pouring down. Ezgi remembers her 7-year-old sister could not stop shaking. The 15-year-old wanted to call their grandparents to see if they were alright, but Ezgi was too scared to make the call herself.
Ezgi’s sisters learned later their grandparents made it through the earthquake alright.
Later, the family became concerned for their neighbors that had not fled their homes. They made their way to the doorstep of an elderly couple. They waited 10 seconds after knocking on the door.
They had slept through the entire thing.
Ezgi’s garage was cracked and in pieces, leaving the car useless. Instead, one of her neighbors offered to drive them wherever they needed. They first stopped at their grandparents’ house to pick them up, and then they all went to their aunt’s house, where they are all currently living.
One singular apartment houses her uncles, aunts, grandparents, sisters and parents. Her uncle sleeps in his car with one of his friends. Everyone else sleeps in the main room where the heating is located. Only her grandfather sleeps in the bedroom with no heating.
“He doesn’t care about the cold,” Ezgi said. “He’s just sleeping there.”
As a high school physics teacher, her mom is left to do her job from home with school buildings closed. Since exams were not canceled in Turkey, Ezgi and her younger sister have a room where they will continue studying. They will continue to live in this temporary apartment until it is safe to return home. She said her family was able to return to their apartment twice to collect necessities such as clothes, books and food.
She said her dad wants to wait until a professional can come to check their house because he does not trust the government officials that originally came. She said her dad does not think the government is taking the situation very seriously. It will probably take four or five months to get their apartment fixed.
“I’m so upset about it—they couldn’t manage all the things that happened,” Ezgi said. “They were not enough. Nothing was enough. It was so bad.”
After a few days, the army came and started to search through the rubble for survivors. There was also international help from the United Nations, which is appealing $1 billion to aid Turkey. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has filed two emergency appeals, sending health teams and initiating fundraisers to help Turkey and Syria.
Ezgi said she has struggled with her mental health since the earthquake. One of her schoolmates was killed and an acquaintance she knows from her dad is coping with their entire family being killed. She limits the time she watches the news to combat her negative thoughts.
“I don’t know what to think about it because I didn’t really have time to manage my feelings," Ezgi said. “I'm not sorry about my physical health or my house because it’s fixable...There are still people out there and when I think about them, I think ‘How can I drink this water if they don’t have water?’”
She said some of her international friends she made last year as an exchange student at Bloomington High School North did not reach out to see how she was.
“If they knew and didn’t text me...It just breaks my heart,” Ezgi said.
St. Augustine, Florida
Ezgi sent a text message at 1 a.m. to her former host sister, Ava Mantha, explaining what had happened. Mantha’s family hosted Ezgi during her exchange year in Bloomington. During this time, they had built a strong friendship and connection with each other.
“There's been a terrible earthquake. Our house is breaking. We have to go. We have to leave. I’m in the car right now.”
However, Mantha did not see the message until 3 p.m. the next day because she was busy with classes at a small college in Florida. She had also received messages from other people asking how Ezgi was.
The more news and social media posts she saw, the more she started to panic. She did not receive any other word from Ezgi until two days later saying she was at her aunt’s house.
“I immediately started freaking out. … I hadn’t gotten any messages since one in the morning,” Mantha said. “One of the most stressful things was the role social media played.”
She said she saw Ezgi’s friends posting about many being dead or in the hospital. It felt strange experiencing the aftershock of the earthquake from the outside, unsettling not knowing what was really going on. Mantha also knew how much emotional damage such an experience can inflict, and wished she could be there to comfort Ezgi.
“It can put your life on hold …You don’t know when things are going to go back to normal,” Mantha said. “Life being put on hold at such a formative time is an aspect that should be taken into account.”
Mantha said she has continued to stay in touch with Ezgi as she continues to navigate the situation. While it may be hard for her to visit the U.S. due to visa complications, Mantha hopes to visit her in Turkey in the following years.
“Knowing someone and not knowing if they’re okay and not knowing how their life is going to play out after these events definitely changes the way you might see the people around you,” Mantha said. “Everyone is in a certain bubble, but you’re connected in more ways than you realize.”