I was awoken between midnight and dawn - at 3 a.m., as I was later to discover - by the first jolts. It was August 17, 1999, I was in my study in our stone house on Sedef, the little island just next to Büyükada, and my bed, which was three yards from my desk, was swaying violently like a rowboat caught in a storm at sea. A terrifying groan came from underground, from what seemed to be right under my bed. Without pausing to find my glasses, following instinct more than reason, I rushed outdoors and began to run. (...)But I want to remember now another, slightly more recent earthquake that took place in the South East of Turkey - like the latest one - on May 1, 2003. It happened in the Bingöl province, or to be more precise,
The first tremors lasted forty-five seconds, claiming thirty thousand lives; before they were over, I had climbed the side steps to the upper floor where my wife and daughter were sleeping. They were awake and waiting in the darkness, afraid and not knowing what to do. The electricity had failed. Together we went out into the garden and the enveloping silence of the night. The awful roar had stopped, and it was as if everything around us were likewise waiting in fear.
The Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute (KOERI, 2003) of Boğaziçi University estimated that the earthquake centered at 39.01 N and 40.49 E, which places the epicenter about 15 km NW of Bingöl city.Non-official sources speak of more than 180 dead. 84 were children aged between 7 and 17 who were sleeping in the dormitory of their collapsed school. But it was not just a random tragedy.The Turkish State had its share of responsibility in the disaster.
According to official anouncements the earthquake caused the loss of 176 lives and injured about 520 people. About 362 buildings collapsed and/or were heavily damaged, and 3026 buildings were moderately-to-lightly damaged in Bingöl city center. The number of collapsed or heavily damaged buildings in the whole earthquake affected region is announced as 625 and a total of 3650 were subjected to damage of different degrees. (Japan Society of Civil Engineers, report The Bingöl Earthquake of May 1, 2003)
|The site near Bingöl where used to be the school destroyed by the 2003 earthquake|
Hayip is very critical towards the government. One example: "There was an earthquake in 1996 in Varto. After that, the government built houses for the victims. Now, during the 2003 Bingöl earthquake those houses fell down. Only two houses are OK, and if you ask people why, they answer: 'because we built them'. It's the houses built by the government that collapsed".
|Hayip Yolcu showing a shoe found among the debris|
He then brings me to the place where the school used to be. On the site, there are still trousers and shoes, macabre reminders that real children were here on that night, and that they don't need those things any more.
|The new buildings|
A teacher tells us what happened that night:
I used to live in the school apartments. I was sleeping, and first there was a small earthquake. I went out, but it was dark, so I could not see anything. I heard voices shouting, crying... I didn't think the dormitory had collapsed, I just thought that maybe the students were crying out of fear. But then a car passed by, and when the lights fell on the school, I realized the amplitude of the destruction. Immediately, we ran to help the children. That night in the dormitory there were 199 students and one teacher. Around 50 of them managed to escape. I took my car and went to ask help from the army. People from the village and from all over the region came with lorries, and we all tried to reach the children under the debris. During the day many groups from all of Turkey arrived, but they did not have enough material, they did not have the necessary equipment. It was such a painful day, we do not want to see that happen again.
Hayip showing children trousers