he earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday morning, as much of the region slept, has yielded images of unthinkable torment. Thoroughfares that once hummed with the traffic and chatter of city life have been reduced to smoking, inscrutable ruins. Parking lots and paved roads have become open-air morgues, with unidentified bodies swaddled in dusty tarps and blankets. In the worst-stricken areas, civilian rescue crews have toiled in chilling temperatures to dig with their bare hands through debris, pulling out survivors and, too often, corpses. Five days in, those still awaiting word of missing loved ones acknowledge that the window for hope has narrowed. The death toll has surpassed twenty thousand, making the tragedy one of the worst so far this century. For each improbable mercy circulated on social media—a family reunited in an open field, a survivor extracted from wreckage to cheers of relief—there remain countless moments of immeasurable anguish, much of it heard but unseen. Families sleeping outdoors, for fear of aftershocks, have described the dwindling screams of survivors trapped out of reach beneath rubble.
Perhaps the most harrowing reels that have surfaced show children: a baby girl born beneath wreckage and rescued after her mother’s death, or an adolescent survivor recording what he’d assumed were his last moments, from beneath the remains of his home. Joe English, a unicef spokesperson, told the Times that “it is unlikely that a single child has emerged unscathed in the areas that have been devastated by the earthquake, physically or psychologically.” Yeter Erel Tuma, a thirty-eight-year-old children’s-rights activist from the majority-Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, has been staying with her family in a low-rise building that houses the local chamber of commerce while she coördinates civilian relief efforts. “We spent the night in two rooms—five families, twenty-five of us in total,” she told me, in Turkish, on Tuesday. She added that volunteers had been working with afad, the Turkish disaster-management agency, to distribute aid. One priority for Tuma is providing psychological support in tent cities “so that children can get by without further trauma,” she said. In addition to the demand for tents, blankets, sleeping bags, and clean clothes, “we need to set up play tents and need materials for that: toys, stationery, chairs for children to sit in.”