Earthquake in Turkey: Buried alive with my newborn son

  • By Alice Cuddy in Samandag, Turkey
  • BBC News

It’s been a week since a deadly earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, killing thousands. But amid the desperation were tales of “miracles.” This is one of them.

When Necla Camuz gave birth to her second son on January 27, she named him Yagiz, which means ‘brave one’.

Just 10 days later, at 04:17 local time, Necla was awake feeding her son at her home in southern Turkey’s Hatay province. Moments later, they were buried under mountains of rubble.

Necla and her family lived on the second floor of a modern five-story building in the city of Samandag. It was a “beautiful building,” she says, and she felt safe there.

Little did she know that morning that the area would be torn apart by the earthquake and buildings would be damaged and destroyed at every turn.

“When the earthquake started, I wanted to go to my husband who was in the other room and he wanted to do the same,” she says.

“But when he tried to get to me with our other son, the wardrobe fell on them and they were unable to move.”

“As the earthquake grew stronger, the wall collapsed, the room shook, and the building shifted its position. When it stopped, I didn’t realize I had fallen one floor down. I called their names, but there was no answer. “

The 33-year-old found herself lying with her baby on her chest, still holding it in her arms. A toppled wardrobe next to her had saved their lives by preventing a large concrete slab from crushing them.

The pair would remain in this position for nearly four days.

day one

Lying under the rubble in her pajamas, Necla could see nothing but “pitch black,” so she had to rely on her other senses to figure out what was going on.

To her relief, she could immediately see that Yagiz was still breathing.

She had trouble breathing at first because of the dust, but said it soon cleared. She was warm in the rubble.

She felt as if there were children’s toys beneath her, but couldn’t bring herself to look or get more comfortable.

Except for the wardrobe, the soft skin of her newborn son, and the clothes they wore, all she could feel was concrete and debris.

In the distance she could hear voices. She tried to call for help and bang on the wardrobe.

“Is someone there? Can someone hear me?” She called.

When that didn’t work, she picked up the small pieces of debris that had fallen next to her and used them to bang on the wardrobe, hoping it would get louder. She was afraid of hitting the surface above her if she collapsed.

Necla realized there was a chance no one would come.

“I was scared,” she says.

In the darkness beneath the rubble, Necla lost all sense of time.

That’s not how life should be.

“You plan a lot of things when you’re having a new baby, and then… you’re suddenly stuck under rubble,” she says.

Still, she knew she had to take care of Yagiz and was able to breastfeed him in a confined space.

There was no water or food source that she could access herself. In desperation, she tried unsuccessfully to drink her own breast milk.

Necla could feel the rumble of drills overhead and hear footsteps and voices, but the muffled sounds seemed far away.

She decided to conserve her energy and stay calm unless the sounds outside got closer.

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The rubble under which Necla was buried

She kept thinking about her family – the baby on her chest and the husband and son lost somewhere in the rubble.

She also worried about how other loved ones fared in the earthquake.

Necla didn’t think she would make it out of the rubble, but Yagiz’s presence gave her reason to remain hopeful.

He slept most of the time, and when he woke up crying, she fed him in silence until he calmed down.

The rescue

After more than 90 hours underground, Necla heard dogs barking. She wondered if she was dreaming.

The barking was followed by a babble of voices.

“Are you alright? Knock once for yes,” one shouted into the rubble. “What apartment do you live in?”

Rescuers carefully dug into the ground to find her while holding Yagiz.

The darkness was broken by a torchlight shining in her eyes.

When the Istanbul City Fire Department rescue team asked how old Yagiz was, Necla couldn’t be sure. All she knew was that he was 10 days old when the earthquake struck.

image source, Ekrem Imamoglu

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Baby Yagiz made headlines after he and Necla were rescued

After handing Yagiz over to rescuers, Necla was carried away on a stretcher in front of what appeared to be a large crowd. She couldn’t see any faces.

When she was taken to an ambulance, she asked for confirmation that her other son had also been rescued.

After the rubble

When she arrived at the hospital, Necla was greeted by family members, who informed her that her husband, Irfan, six, and their son, Yigit Kerim, three, had been rescued from the rubble.

But they had been rushed to a hospital in Adana province hours away after suffering serious injuries to their legs and feet.

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Necla was eventually reunited with her husband Irfan and three-year-old son Yigit Kerim

Remarkably, Necla and Yagiz had not sustained any serious physical injuries. They were kept in the hospital for observation for 24 hours before being discharged.

Necla had no home to return to, but a family member took her back to a makeshift blue tent made of wood and tarp. There are 13 of them in total – all have lost their homes.

In the tent, the family supports each other, makes coffee over a small stove, plays chess and tells stories.

Necla “tries” to come to terms with what happened to her. She says she owes Yagiz for saving her life.

“I think if my baby wasn’t strong enough to handle it, I wouldn’t have been either,” she explains.

Her only dream for her son is that he never experiences anything like this again.

“I’m very happy that he’s a newborn baby and won’t remember anything,” she says.

When a call comes in, Necla grins. From a hospital bed, Irfan and Yigit Kerim smile and wave.

“Hello warrior, how are you, my son?” Irfan asks his baby through the screen.

Additional reporting by Emrah Bulut.

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