Turkey quake survivor visiting S’pore recalls being trapped under rubble, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Turkey quake survivor visiting S’pore recalls being trapped under rubble

At about 4.15am on Feb 6, 2023, 14-year-old Mustafa Akpinar was trapped under the rubble of what was once a 13-storey building.

The concrete from the structure that was once the teenager’s home, in the city of Kahramanmaras in Turkey, had entombed him, his two sisters and mother, after two devastating earthquakes hit the country.

It was winter, and temperatures were as low as 2 deg C.

The family did not know that dozens of their neighbours had been killed as they slept.

After three days, without food and water, Mustafa and his family were rescued.

The earthquakes of magnitudes 7.8 and 7.6 ravaged Turkey and neighbouring Syria, and affected 14 million people.

More than 53,000 people were reported to have died and around 680,000 homes were destroyed in Turkey, leaving millions homeless. Nearly 6,000 reportedly died in Syria, although the death tolls for both countries are believed to be much higher.

A year on, Mustafa, now 15, spoke to The Straits Times while sitting at The Mediterranean Deli Turk restaurant in Far East Plaza in Orchard Road. The restaurant belongs to his uncle Ahmet Akpinar, 43, who is also its executive chef.

In March 2023, ST reported that Mr Ahmet, a Singapore permanent resident, lost more than 120 of his relatives in the natural disaster.

Following the earthquakes, Mr Ahmet encouraged Mustafa and his two sisters, aged 20 and 17, to come to Singapore.

The children’s 45-year-old father Celal Akpinar is separated from their mother and has been living in Singapore for five years on an S Pass, working as a chef with his brother, Mr Ahmet.

The three siblings arrived here in October 2023 and are on dependent passes.

Mustafa does not speak English. But as he sat next to his uncle, who acted as translator, the weight of the disaster on his young shoulders spoke volumes.

He recalled: “It was very cold. We were not sure if we would survive, because for three days we did not eat or drink, and we also could not move. We were waiting for rescuers to come. My mother kept saying, ‘Just be patient, just be patient.’”

After they were pulled from the rubble, Mustafa and his family were put up in one of the container homes set up for survivors of the earthquake.

Mustafa could not contain his emotions when talking about the people he had lost.

He said: “About 15 of my friends living in the same building died. It’s very hard to explain what it’s like to go through something like this.”

When asked how he was finding Singapore, he said: “I checked already… Singapore does not have any earthquakes.”

His uncle, Mr Ahmet, visited Turkey in September 2023 and met some of his mother’s neighbours at the container she lives in.

He soon found out just how scarred the survivors were while chatting with them.

As they were seated around a table, Mr Ahmet casually shook his leg against the furniture, causing those around him to panic and jump up, thinking there was another earthquake.

He said: “I don’t think we will move back to normal. People are still living like the earthquake happened yesterday.”

According to Reuters, some people in Turkey are still searching for their loved ones, with 140 people missing.

The Turkish Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Mehmet Burcin Gonenli, told ST on Feb 1 that some people, including children, had lost their limbs. There are rehabilitation programmes under way for them, with some being fitted with artificial limbs.

Survivors are getting psychological support.