Long journeys to find family

Samet holds up his phone

Samet traveled to Turkey to try to find his missing brother Ismail

While waiting for a delayed flight from Istanbul airport this week, Samet Yilmaz held up his phone and pointed to a photo of debris. He said his brother, Ismail, was buried under it.

Samet lives in Bahrain but has joined dozens of people who made the journey to southern Turkey in the aftermath of a massive earthquake that killed thousands.

Like others, he believes he is more likely to find his missing brother if he sorts through the rubble himself.

Ismail, a 26-year-old supermarket cashier, was staying with relatives in Hatay province on the Syrian border at the time of the earthquake.

Others, including his brother-in-law, were pulled from the remains of the building later that day, but Ismail has not been found, Samet said.

“I miss him so much. I came from Bahrain to Turkey to look for him. He is my only brother,” he told the BBC.

Samet described Ismail as intelligent and “shy with girls”. He said he was desperate for good news but felt there was “no help” in the search.

After arriving in Turkey, Samet spent hours waiting in Istanbul for a flight to take him to Adana in the south of the country before embarking on the hour-long drive to Hatay province.

“It’s so cold here. Life is hard,” he said in a WhatsApp message late Tuesday evening after arriving in the province, which has been devastated by the earthquake.

With nowhere to stay for the night, he warmed himself by a fire all night, waiting for daylight so that he could look for Ismail.

Samet and Ismail

Samet and his brother Ismail

Samet is not alone. The BBC has spoken to people from across Turkey and abroad who have traveled to the earthquake-hit areas to search for missing loved ones.

In the city of Antakya, men armed with picks and crowbars searched the rubble of a collapsed building for survivors on Tuesday. They told the BBC that they were related to the residents of the building and had come from Istanbul to find their relatives.

Medical student Aylin Pulat was unable to get hold of several members of her family, including her parents, after the earthquake hit.

She is based in Mugla, more than 1,000 km (620 mi) from her childhood home in Adiyaman.

With no news of her family’s fate, she took a four-hour bus journey, a two-hour flight, and a more than two-hour drive back to her hometown to find out if they were still alive.

Much to her relief, she discovered that her siblings and parents had survived. But 20 other family members had died.

“When I arrived I saw that much of the city had been destroyed and there was no safe place for people to take shelter,” she said.

“The only relief I got was to see that almost all of my [immediate] family were safe. I wasn’t sure before I got there.

“When I found them they were all wearing pajamas and that’s how I knew they escaped with nothing. We all just froze.”

She said she could hear sounds of some collapsed buildings, but rescue efforts were largely left to the residents of the city.

“People are just waiting helplessly to reach their loved ones under the rubble. We need support here as soon as possible.”

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