It was around 3:00am in Istanbul when the earth shook beneath us. My 6-month old baby slept in her pack-n-play at the foot of our bed, and my husband and I woke to a thunderous roar. My first thought was of terrorists’ bombs going off. When we had told friends we were going to Turkey to introduce our baby to the Turkish side of my husband’s family, everyone mentioned the terrorists. Growing up on the East Coast of America, I knew nothing of bathtubs and doorjambs, and the deafening cacophony associated with an earthquake. Instinctively I grabbed our baby and clutched her to my chest – a pose I held as I watched the chandelier above our bed swing wildly. My body folded around hers as she slept on. Furniture tumbled, as I swear I felt undulating waves of movement beneath me in such a way that a bed or a floor of an apartment building just DO NOT move. When the roar was continuous,20 seconds, 30 seconds, I knew it could not be bombs hitting the building next door . The 40 seconds felt like an hour. MY BABY, MY BABY! Was the plea that circled through my mind. In the days following, and thinking back still, I can not get over the feeling of terror that washed through me, but that is not it.
It is the knowledge that countless other mothers had sat clutching their children that night the same was as me, only to have their buildings crumble on top of them. The official death count is listed as 18,000, but Turkish authorities estimated it closer to 35,000 people who died that night in Turkey. Most of whom lived less than an hour outside of Istanbul in and around the city of Izmit, the epicenter of the earthquake. Corrupt builders there had not followed building codes, and had put too much sand in the cement, so when that night stuck buildings literally crumbled. The earthquake registered 7.6 on the Richter scale. With the hundreds of continual aftershocks that shook Istanbul a couple of Turkish scientists announced that everyone should sleep outside. In 1999 the city of Istanbul had a population of over 9 million people, and they formed a carpet of humanity filling parks and lining highways to sleep outside that following night. My father-in-law and my husband are both scientists and thought the suggestion was ridiculous. I am not a scientist, and as the mother of a six month old baby, demanded that if the rest of Istanbul was sleeping outside, so would we. My father-in-law called a close family friend, Ali, who had a yard, and asked if we could camp out there for the night.
Ali, gracious as always, immediately agreed. So it was that we caravanned to Ali’s house with my husband’s aunt and uncle, his grandfather, his grandfather’s two body guards, their household staff of three, my father-in-Law, my husband, our infant and myself. Our entourage sprawled around Ali’s yard, and once we were settled, he left for Izmit with his grown son to try to help dig people out. It was a surreal trip, and a lesson in humility. To feel the earth move like that under me was a reminder of how tiny we each are in the scheme of things. How great and powerful the nature of the earth truly is over us all.
Have any of you experienced an earthquake? Did you know what was happening?