Turkey earthquake: Yorkshire doctor says survivors are showing 'resilience and bravery'

A Yorkshire doctor said Turkish earthquake survivors face mental trauma – including a fear of their own homes and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - but have shown profound resilience and bravery despite what they have experienced.

Dr Asim Salim, who lives in Leeds and works in Barnsley as a consultant in emergency medicine, has travelled to Turkey twice with non-governmental organisation (NGO) Humanity First UK to help set up medical camps and tend to survivors suffering from injuries and battling with their mental health. The second trip took place from February 19 to March 4, with the first five-day trip beginning within 48 hours of the first earthquake.

"You see the pictures on the TV, you read it in the newspaper, you see videos on YouTube, so you have an idea of what's happening," the 46-year-old said. "But when you actually go and see it with your own eyes, it is a very different experience standing on the road when there are buildings around you which have fallen completely to the floor.

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"When you stand next to a building, you can smell death because there are unfortunately dead bodies inside buildings and it is virtually impossible to get everything out and make everything go back to normal.

Dr Asim Salim providing medical aid to survivors of the earthquakes in Turkey. (Photo credit: Humanity First/PA Wire)Dr Asim Salim providing medical aid to survivors of the earthquakes in Turkey. (Photo credit: Humanity First/PA Wire)
Dr Asim Salim providing medical aid to survivors of the earthquakes in Turkey. (Photo credit: Humanity First/PA Wire)

"It hits you really hard."

A series of earthquakes have hit Syria and Turkey since February, resulting in thousands losing their lives or becoming displaced. The strongest quake, which had a magnitude of 7.8, happened on February 6.

Dr Salim spoke about the trauma faced by people because of the earthquakes - with many developing a fear of going inside their homes.

"In the first trip, when I travelled into the areas close to the epicentre of the earthquake, I noticed loads of people on the streets burning cardboard boxes just to stay warm as it was freezing cold," he said.

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"A few unfortunately had their houses damaged so they had nowhere to go, but a good number of people - families with young children, for example - had perfectly normal houses but they chose to sit outside in the freezing cold next to the fire. They could not go inside their homes because of fear and that shock they had two days ago."

In the second week the doctor travelled to Turkey, he said he was on the sixth floor of a building in Gaziantep when the "second-biggest aftershock happened", which he described as being "intense" to deal with.

"I immediately took my passport, jacket and literally just ran down the stairs in my flip-flops and went outside on the road. And surrounding me were thousands of people in the freezing cold, and then my team and I waited in the car and we did not even know what we were waiting for. The only thing is that we could not go back inside the building and I understood the feeling of those people that I saw. It is hard to describe but it is such an intense feeling."

Dr Salim said while the physical trauma has "probably gone now", the mental trauma remains.

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"It's a matter of rebuilding everything," he said. "In terms of the mental trauma, it is impossible for survivors not to suffer from PTSD; it is an issue. And there is also financial trauma, which I think they will deal with slowly."

Despite experiencing devastating loss, Dr Salim said those he met and spoke with while in the country displayed great bravery.

"The local people are very, very strong and very resilient", he said. "They are doing their level best and are very brave and the way they have faced the massive destruction is inspiring, in a way. And they always find a way of helping each other through it."

Dr Salim added: "No government or local administration can cope with the amount of destruction they have experienced, but they are doing as much as they can. They have been working with local people hand-in-hand and I remember one time there was a boy who was probably three or four at one of our medical camps and was wearing mismatched shoes. A member of the administration team replaced his shoes with a brand new pair and of the right size and that is the level of care those in charge here have."

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The NGO has an appeal running to help those affected by the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey: https://hfuk.org/ts-earthquake/ Humanity First has also set up a kitchen in Antakya, in the Hatay province in Turkey, to cook food for thousands of people in the area and surrounding villages.