Antakya felt forsaken. People here had been complaining for days – pleading, in fact, for more help in finding the thousands missing and trapped in the collapsed buildings throughout their city.
Help from the Turkish government was slow to come, and they wondered: where was all the international aid?
By late in the third day of aftermath, things had changed. Roads in and out of the southern Turkish city were gridlocked with heavy equipment, ambulances and pickup trucks bringing help – albeit at a snail’s pace – to those who had long lost the luxury of patience.
Volunteers who dug for their relatives by hand were now joined by the professionals.
“Can you please stand back,” an English voice commanded from one roadside ruin halfway down Ataturk Street. The Brits had arrived.
Some 77 men and women from the UK International Search and Rescue got 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’s responsible for the team’s safety and was frankly a little surprised to find himself so close to the border with Syria.
But he’s a veteran of disasters 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 witnessed, particularly in this location where it doesn’t seem to be that international teams have arrived.”
They were only supposed to be surveying buildings, not carrying out rescues yet, when word came – or perhaps Dave the sniffer dog’s nose twitched (no one was really very clear) – of a sixty-year-old woman trapped under four floors of apartment block.
A London firefighter, Sarah Minash, spoke to the woman as the rest of the team chipped and hacked at the collapsed building around her – creating a tunnel to bring her out.
“She smiled at us when she saw us,” Sarah said. “It’s my first foreign deployment,” she added, looking really pleased.
“We’re extremely pleased, really emotional when things go well,” said Jim Chasten, team leader from the Kent Fire and Rescue Service.
“[It’s] a really good outcome. I’ve already lost track of time, but it’s still light, so we couldn’t have been here that long.” In fact, they’d only been on the ground for five hours.
The rescued woman’s name is Salva. She’s sixty-years-old and survived three-and-a-half days without food or water. She cried in pain as she was brought out while her son-in-law, Ali Ekenel, cried tears of joy.
“She’s the most important person in the world to my wife,” he said.
The men and women from UK International Service and Rescue took a round of applause from the waiting crowd and moved on, looking for more survivors.