Antakya felt abandoned. The people here had been complaining for days – even begging for more help to find the thousands of missing and prisoners in the collapsed buildings all over their city.
Aid from the Turkish government was slow to arrive and they wondered: where was all the international aid?
By the end of the third day of the aftermath, things had changed. Roads in and out of the southern Turkish city were jammed with heavy equipment, ambulances and pick-up trucks bringing help – albeit at a snail’s pace – to those who had long since lost the luxury of patience.
Volunteers who dug by hand for their relatives were now joined by the professionals.
“Could you please stand back,” an English voice commanded from a roadside ruin halfway down Ataturk Street. The British had arrived.
Some 77 men and women from the UK International Search and Rescue arrived here on Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters, medics and a sniffer dog named Dave.
Phil Irving is usually in charge of a fire station in West Wales. He is responsible for the safety of the team and was honestly a little surprised to be so close to the Syrian border.
But he is a disaster veteran and has been with the International Search and Rescue for 17 years.
“I went to Haiti in 2010 and this is comparable to the devastation I’ve seen, especially in this location where international teams don’t seem to have arrived.”
They were only for building surveys, not rescues yet, when word came – or maybe Dave the sniffer dog was pulling his nose (nobody was really clear) – of a 60-year-old woman trapped under four floors of an apartment. block.
A London firefighter, Sarah Minash, spoke to the woman as the rest of the team hacked into the collapsed building around her and created a tunnel to take her out.
“She smiled at us when she saw us,” Sarah said. “It’s my first foreign broadcast,” she added, very pleased.
“We are very pleased, very emotional when things go well,” said Kent Fire and Rescue Service team leader Jim Chasten.
“[It’s] really good result. I’ve already lost track of time, but it’s still light, so we couldn’t have been here that long.” In fact, they had only been on the ground for five hours.
The rescued woman’s name is Salva. She is sixty years old and survived three and a half days without food or drink. She cried in pain as she was taken outside, while her son-in-law, Ali Ekenel, cried tears of joy.
“She is the most important person in the world to my wife,” he said.
The men and women of UK International Service and Rescue received a round of applause from the waiting crowd and moved on in search of more survivors.