A year of survival

Al Jazeera's podcast The Take followed people affected by the Turkey-Syria earthquakes through their journeys of grief, displacement and recovery

For years, people in Turkey talked about "The Big One" - an earthquake that would devastate a densely populated area.

On Monday, February 6, 2023, it happened. Twice.

At 4:17am, when most people were asleep in their homes, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit southeastern Turkey, near its border with northern Syria.

Just nine hours later, it was followed by another magnitude 7.5 quake.

Video Duration 00 minutes 47 seconds
Breaking news on earthquake day

The epicentre was the province of Kahramanmaras. There, one local family - the Kurts - recorded their terror and final wishes as they were trapped under their collapsed home.

Video Duration 00 minutes 35 seconds
Turkish family under rubble

After 10 hours under the rubble, help finally arrived for the Kurt family. The parents and two oldest children survived, but their youngest son, Bilal, aged 12, died.

The earthquakes were the most powerful earthquakes to hit the region in nearly a century.

Turkey-Syria earthquake interactive timeline

The devastation was felt across 11 Turkish provinces, an area measuring 110,000sq km (42,471sq miles). That's roughly the size of Bulgaria.

The affected areas were also home to approximately 13 million people, equal to about 15 percent of Turkey's total population.

Epicentres of Turkey-Syria earthquakes

There were thousands of aftershocks. Tremors were felt as far as 1,000km (621 miles) away, shaking buildings and waking people in places like Iraq, Cyprus and Israel.

How big were the Turkey-Syria earthquakes

The death toll quickly mounted on both sides of the border

The Take podcast spoke with survivors from major cities and remote villages, family members near and far, refugees and displaced people, aid workers, earthquake experts and many others to hear what it's meant to rebuild over the past year after one of the largest natural disasters in the region's history.


A boy carries items from the rubble near the site of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Gaziantep, Turkey, February 7, 2023. [Suhaib Salem/Reuters]

When the earthquakes struck, 36-year-old Emad Nasher was sleeping with his wife, their two children and his mother in their 13th-floor apartment located on the southern edge of Gaziantep.

He said the view from their living room window overlooked a park and used to bring him a sense of peace. But since the earthquakes, he can only think of the dangers he discovered about living so high up.

View from Emad Nasher's former apartment window. Photo courtesy of Emad Nasher
View from Emad's apartment window before the earthquakes struck [Photo courtesy of Emad Nasher]

That morning, he was woken by the sound of his 13-year-old son crying after being thrown out of his bed by the strength of the tremor. A wardrobe also fell over. The ceiling chandelier broke from swaying so hard.

Emad and his wife ran to comfort their children, even as they were filled with fear themselves. Click on the video below to hear his story.

Video Duration 02 minutes 29 seconds
'All of us were shaking'

This wasn't the first time people living in Turkey had experienced the ground suddenly shifting below their feet. The country sits at the meeting point of three tectonic plates, making it one of the most seismically active places in the world.

'The faults are within the land'

Ezgi Karasozen is a Turkish research seismologist at the Alaska Earthquake Center. She explained that Turkey is actually moving along two large faults: The North Anatolian Fault Zone that goes west and east of the country, and the East Anatolian Fault Zone.

Turkey-Syria earthquake tectonic plates

As these faults continued to push against each other, pressure built - until suddenly, there was a rupture.

Turkey-Syria strike-slip faults

Karasozen explained that, in Turkey, there are many long inland faults that have the potential to create large-magnitude earthquakes.

Unlike some ruptures that happen under the sea, the February 6 earthquakes struck the land directly below people's feet.

"So these earthquakes are 'inland strike-slip', meaning the faults are within the land," said Karasozen. "Within the land, faults can be more destructive because the rupture is happening deep under the population centres."

According to Karasozen, one particularly interesting thing is that the first rupture of this earthquake happened on a previously unmapped fault. She said this will help scientists understand which areas need more research and better map the faults in Turkey.

More than 300,000 buildings collapsed or needed to be demolished after the earthquakes.

The UN said that's more rubble than any other disaster ever. It's estimated to be 10 times more than the debris caused by the magnitude 7 earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, killing more than 250,000 people and destroying much of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Alper Ilki is the president of the Turkey Earthquake Foundation, an NGO providing education for sustainable infrastructure in Turkey. He explained that the widespread destruction is largely down to Turkey's history of poor building standards and materials.

It's a problem that can't easily be fixed.

Ilki explained that as much as 90 percent of all buildings built before 2000 in Turkey were not properly constructed. "To convert all these buildings to a seismic-safe situation, you need a lot of money, you need a lot of temporary homes, you need a lot of engineering service, you need a lot of inspection effort, and so on."

Damaged building, in the aftermath of the deadly earthquakes
More than 300,000 buildings collapsed or needed to be demolished after the earthquakes [Nir Elias/Reuters]

New laws were introduced in 2000 to update Turkey's construction standards. But even some buildings that advertised themselves as "seismic-safe" crumbled during the February earthquakes. The government launched criminal investigations against more than 600 people suspected of violating construction codes. They included building developers, owners and even the mayor of a town near the epicentre.

But opposition parties have accused the government of contributing to the problem by failing to enforce regulations over the years.

Since coming to power in 2002, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered "zoning amnesties" nine times. The last one happened before his 2018 presidential re-election. These amnesties allowed illegally constructed buildings to be registered even if they hadn't met safety and design requirements.

Erdogan has called these amnesties "gestures of compassion" to help solve the country's housing shortage. In October 2022, the government said that more than three million households and companies across Turkey had been granted an amnesty.

People work at the site of a collapsed building, in the aftermath of the deadly earthquakes
People work at the site of a collapsed building, in the aftermath of the deadly earthquakes [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

After the quakes, Emad's apartment building was not safe to stay in. He and his family waited in their car in a local park for three hours.

But, as rumours of another big earthquake started circulating, Emad decided to return to the building by himself to get essential supplies: Money, clothes so they could change out of their pyjamas, heavy coats and blankets for the freezing weather.

People shelter in their cars after earthquake in Gaziantep, Turkey
People sheltered in their cars after the earthquakes in Gaziantep, Turkey [Photo courtesy of Emad Nasher]

From WhatsApp group chats and calls with their family and friends, Emad heard that emergency shelters and mosques were becoming crowded with other desperate people. So, the family decided to stay in their car. They also took in Emad's mother-in-law, who was living alone in another part of the city.

For the next four cold days and nights, four adults and two children lived packed into a Hyundai Elantra. Even meeting their basic needs became a challenge. Listen more in the video below.

Video Duration 02 minutes 18 seconds
Finding safety

While life inside the earthquake zone was difficult, leaving the area wasn't easy either. Many roads were destroyed. Those that remained were overwhelmed with cars trying to escape the region.


An estimated 2.7 million people were displaced from their homes. Many left for bigger cities or went to stay with relatives in other provinces.

This was even harder for Syrians living in Turkey, who are required to obtain a travel permit any time they leave the city where their residency is officially registered.

One week after the earthquakes, the Turkish government announced that it would ease travelling restrictions for Syrians. Ammar Sammour quickly bought one-way tickets to Istanbul for him, his wife and her family.

But when the group of nine people arrived at the airport, it was a scene unlike anything he'd seen before. Watch the next two videos to find out what happened next for them.

Video Duration 02 minutes 50 seconds
Getting out

Two weeks after Ammar's family made it to Istanbul, he was approved for a residence visa for the UK. He and his wife moved to London, but the rest of the family had to stay in Turkey. Ammar cannot return to Turkey for the time being because of identity card issues.

Video Duration 00 minutes 31 seconds
Leaving the earthquake zone

A month after the earthquakes, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began.

It's usually a time for fasting, prayer and community. But for survivors, some of their favourite Ramadan traditions became sources of painful memories.

Ramadan in the earthquake zone

For some, going to mosque triggered fears about being in indoor spaces and collapsing buildings.

For others, Iftar - the meal to break the fast that's shared with friends and family - became a reminder of all the people they had lost.

And the feast of special dishes normally prepared for Iftar was replaced with handouts from emergency soup kitchens.

It gave Emad and Ammar a new perspective on Ramadan. Click on the video below to hear how they see things now.

Video Duration 01 minute 56 seconds
Ramadan after the earthquakes

For more on what the Muslim holy month felt like for people in the wake of this disaster, listen to the full episode of Al Jazeera's podcast, The Take.



The ancient Turkish city of Antakya dates back to 300 BC when it was known as Antioch.

It has been celebrated throughout history as a meeting point of different cultures and religions, earning it the nickname, "City of Civilisations".

People from Antakya also share a deep pride in this heritage. They talk fondly about growing up next to the Orontes River with memories of cooking with their family using the region's famous red pepper paste.

But after the February 6 earthquakes, the region began to be described in a different way:

"Antakya bitti".

Antakya is finished.

A message written on a car covered by dust from collapsed buildings reads
A message written on a car covered with dust from collapsed buildings reads 'God, enough. Hatay. Antakya. 6 of February 2023. In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate' [Bernat Armangue/AP Photo]

Antakya was the hardest-hit urban area in the quake zone. More than 23,000 people in Antakya's province died in the disaster. That's equal to about 1 percent of the province's population and more than half of Turkey's total death toll from the disaster.

Historic landmarks that had stood in the Old Town for centuries - such as the Habib-i Neccar Mosque, believed to be the oldest in Anatolia - were reduced to rubble.

For those who had family in Antakya, the wait for news of their loved ones within the earthquake zone became the longest wait of their lives.

Journalist Emre Rende was working outside the country when he heard the news from his family's hometown.

When Emre finally managed to make contact, the news was not good. In all, 17 members of his family died in the earthquakes and those who had survived were struggling terribly with the shock. Listen to their story by clicking on the video below.

Video Duration 02 minutes 22 seconds
Counting the losses

Antakya is part of a larger region known as the Turkish Fertile Crescent, a key area for the country's farming and food industries.

According to the United Nations, the earthquake-hit provinces account for about 20 percent of Turkey's agricultural output, including crops like citrus fruits, cotton and pistachios.

This fertile land has been left in ruins.

Fertile Crescent agriculture in Turkey

The 'Turkish Fertile Crescent'

Anna Maria Beylunioglu has worried about what the destruction of so much fertile land could mean for Antakya's cultural heritage that's centred around its rich food traditions.

Beylunioglu is a trained chef who now teaches at universities in Istanbul about food, politics and society. She proudly described her family roots as "Antiochian in every sense".

Anna Maria said the region's farms, bazaars, restaurants, bakeries and street vendors have been the heart of Antakya's food culture for generations. However, concerns have grown that they may never fully recover from the earthquakes. Click below to see what's at stake.

Video Duration 02 minutes 06 seconds
On Antakya food culture

Environmental experts have also warned of another threat to the land coming from the earthquake rubble. Asli Odman is a lecturer on urban and regional planning and a founding member of the Health and Safety Labour Watch of Turkey. She said that in the rush to remove debris and begin rebuilding, many toxic elements from destroyed buildings may have been dumped together without being properly treated.

A dump site of earthquake rubble is seen next to a brick and cement block factory on the outskirts of Antakya in Hatay province, Turkey
Environment experts have warned that toxic materials may have been mixed together at earthquake rubble dump sites [Ece Toksabay/Reuters]

If inhaled, asbestos fibres can cause respiratory diseases and even lung cancer. Odman's group tested samples from around the earthquake zone, including the rubble, dust and shelter areas. She said the majority showed traces of white asbestos.

What's been especially worrying to Odman, though, is that Turkey has had strong legislation banning the use of asbestos since 2010. "The whole set of laws banning and also defining the safe removal of asbestos has been transferred into Turkish law," she said. "So the regulations about asbestos - they are very fixed. They are strong."

If there is such great exposure to one of the best-regulated toxins, Odman is worried that other hazardous materials which are not as well monitored, such as lead, mercury and silica, could be even more prevalent.

She said the list of potential toxins is long. As well as building debris, there's hospital waste, sewage leaks, agricultural chemicals and more that have all been mixed in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

Odman said, "If they're not isolated from each other, they come into interference with each other, then they create new hazardous materials in combination."

There have also been reports that these mountains of waste have been dumped near sensitive environmental areas instead of within designated safe zones. Odman's group has documented contractors illegally disposing of rubble near river basins, shore sites, water channels for agriculture, migration areas and olive groves. This could pose a significant risk if toxins seep into the soil and contaminate future crops and ecosystems.

A dump site of earthquake rubble is seen next to a brick and cement block factory on the outskirts of Antakya in Hatay province, Turkey
A dump site of earthquake rubble is seen next to a brick and cement block factory on the outskirts of Antakya in Hatay province, Turkey [Ece Toksabay/Reuters]

For survivors, like Emre's family, a desire to be close to this familiar land brought them back to Antakya. Despite initially fleeing the earthquake zone, most members of Emre's family have now returned. Find out why in the video below.

Video Duration 01 minute 34 seconds
Families return

While adults struggled to cope with the intense trauma of the disaster, children in the earthquake zone were even less equipped to handle the shock of witnessing death and destruction up close.

Child trauma

Antakya child trauma

Ceyda Yelkalan, from the humanitarian organisation Save the Children, reached Antakya just more than 24 hours after the earthquakes. For months afterwards, parents told her their children had become unrecognisable. Many became too anxious to leave their mothers' sides, started wetting their beds or had outbursts of aggression.

Yelkalan said these classic signs of acute distress can disrupt a child's development and, if not treated carefully, can carry on into adulthood. "It will lead to communication barriers between their parents and their peers. That could also mean that growing up as an adult, they won't be able to make meaningful connections with the people around them. In more severe cases, it could lead to mental health illnesses as well as even substance abuse," she said.

Antakya child trauma
Syrian children read inside a camp for displaced people following the deadly earthquakes [Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]

MSF and other aid groups set up programmes to support children in processing their grief and trauma. Other smaller volunteer groups tried simply to bring smiles back to children's faces. Theatre companies, circus acts and artists all travelled to the earthquake zone to provide distractions and allow children to feel like children again.

Child trauma Antakya
Children play in the Orhanli tent city in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, in Antakya [Susana Vera/Reuters]

But Yelkalan said returning to the routine of going to school was one of the best remedies for trauma and shock. Even though many schools were destroyed or adapted into shelters for survivors after the disaster, classes largely resumed on schedule in September 2023.

Children, parents and teachers all said that despite the initial fears about returning to a normal routine, the feeling of being together in a familiar setting has brought relief.

One primary school teacher told Al Jazeera's The Take that he called each of his students individually to encourage them to return to school. He described school as "a medicine for the children to overcome their fear of earthquakes".

Antakya child trauma
A boy looks at drawings made by children during an activity to entertain and support the mental health of children affected by the deadly earthquake, at a camp for survivors [Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters]

The trauma suffered by Antakya's children, adults and environment has forced many people to reconsider their futures in the region.

A major construction project has started in the hills further north that's expected to attract many residents. Developers said the site is away from the fault lines and apartments there will be more earthquake-resistant.

But the families of Emre, Anna Maria and others whose roots are in Antakya hope whatever rebuilding comes next will safeguard the original soul of their ancient hometown.

Video Duration 02 minutes 00 seconds
Rebuilding Antakya

To hear more about Antakya's history and what its destruction has meant to its people, listen to the full episode of The Take podcast.

Northwest Syria

Rescuers carry a victim on the rubble as the search for survivors continues in the aftermath of an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria

The epicentres of the earthquakes were in Turkey, but the devastation was felt across the border in northwestern Syria, as well.

And while Turkey was able to mobilise a massive rescue effort and received aid from around the world, the people of northwestern Syria found themselves even more isolated and desperate.

Map: Earthquake affected areas of Syria

"Whatever I can say, the situation is worse."

That's how Dr Zaher Sahloul described the disaster in his homeland, Syria.

He's the co-founder of the US-based charity MedGlobal and has spent more than a decade delivering humanitarian relief there.

Because long before the quakes hit in February last year, Syria was already in crisis.

Almost 13 years of war have displaced millions of people, destroyed basic infrastructure and pushed the country's health and emergency services to the limit. Here's how Dr Sahloul described the situation to The Take podcast just after the earthquakes happened last year.

Video Duration 01 minutes 33 seconds
Dr Sahloul interview

The northwest of Syria remains an active combat zone. Fighters loyal to Bashar al-Assad's government, Syrian rebels and various other factions have carved up the territory. This made rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath of the February earthquakes more complicated.

Interactive_Syria control map_Darkversion_March_2023

The Syrian government and its ally in the war, Russia, sent emergency teams to areas under their control, including Aleppo and Latakia. But they restricted aid from crossing into the province of Idlib, which is the last opposition-held region.

The only UN-approved entry point for international supplies into northwestern Syria is through Turkey. And for days, trucks carrying those critical supplies had to wait to cross the border because the roads were so badly damaged.

Instead, residents relied mostly on volunteers from the Syrian Civil Defence, better known as the White Helmets.

White Helmets lead rescue efforts, again

The White Helmets have years of experience of pulling people out from under the rubble left by air raids. But without much heavy machinery, people were forced to pick through debris for hours with their bare hands - often without yielding any results.

Rescue efforts were called off after five days because rescuers said they didn't have the resources to save any more lives. One member of the White Helmets said he's still haunted by the voices he heard from under the rubble that called for help, but could not be reached in time.

Almost 8,500 people were killed in Syria. Approximately 14,500 others were injured and half a million were displaced.

Al Jazeera correspondent Zeina Khodr was on the ground inside northwestern Syria. Survivors told her that after enduring so much hardship already, they now faced "eternal displacement".

Video Duration 25 minutes 44 seconds
The Full Report: Turkey quake worsens Syria's tragedy

A major step back for women and girls


With so many crises occurring at the same time, women and girls in Syria have often found their needs sidelined, says Hiba Ezzideen, CEO of the Equity and Empowerment Organisation, which focuses on women's rights in northwest Syria. Even basic health supplies like sanitary pads were hard to find in the first days after the earthquakes. Ezzideen worries that other progress Syrian women have made over the years will be undone.

"Because of the earthquake, the situation went back to block number one," she said. "So first of all, we went back to the stereotypical roles of women as caregivers. In addition, we have a lot of women who lost their husbands, and they're responsible for their family now."

With less access to training and fewer job opportunities, however, Ezzideen said many women and girls are in a vulnerable position.

For example, many people who lost their houses are now being hosted by other families. According to Ezzideen, this has led to a rise in the number of early marriages in cases where daughters are married off to sons from the hosting family in order to avoid conflicts.

Families living in the displacement camps also face difficult decisions. "They prefer to give away their girls in order to decrease the economic burden," she said. "This is very notable after a year of the earthquake. It's very notable."

Yasmin Alhamou cooking over an open fire in a displacement camp
Woman cooks over an open fire in a displacement camp in northwestern Syria [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

We spoke to another survivor named "Mohammed" (he asked not to use his real name out of fear for his safety in Syria). The 36-year-old had been forced by the war to move to Idlib with his wife and five-year-old daughter. They had slowly begun to rebuild their lives there - until the earthquakes struck.

Their home collapsed, killing Mohammed's wife and daughter. He was trapped under a concrete slab for three days before rescuers found him.

He had to have his right leg amputated. He told Al Jazeera that, in some ways, surviving the disaster has been worse than death.

'Mohammed' in hospital with amputated leg suffered during the earthquake in Syria
'Mohammed' in hospital after his leg was amputated due to injuries from the earthquakes. He says he cannot afford to get a good enough prosthetic to live a normal life [Photo courtesy of his family]

"After the earthquake, I felt like the whole world left me, and the whole world turned black, and there was no one to ask about me," he said. "I only wish to die. I don't want anything in life after my wife and daughter."

Mohammed said that he's trying to adjust to his new reality, but without a job and in constant pain because of his amputation, he added that he doesn't see any hope for his future. "I'm hoping to die and go to be with my wife."

Mohammed had a message for anyone who hasn't faced a tragedy: "Hold on to your loved ones, your friends, your family and everything you love around you, and spend more time with them than before because, at any moment, you might lose them and regret the moments you couldn't be with them."

'People don't sympathise
with the victims of wars'

In the aftermath of the earthquakes, Dr Sahloul from MedGlobal said he hoped the global spotlight would be brought back to Syria's plight. "People don't sympathise with the victims of wars. When we talk about geopolitics, the American public and Westerners in general don't understand," he said. "But now it's very clear. You have earthquakes and you have victims, and it's easy to sympathise."

In a promising early sign, US President Joe Biden mentioned Syria for the first time since being elected in a tweet about the earthquakes. Dr Sahloul said he wanted this to be one silver lining from the tragedy. "I'm really feeling happy because of this sympathy to the Syrian people that suddenly outpoured because of this earthquake."

Children look out of a tent housing a family at Kafr Yahmul camp
Children look out of a tent housing a family at Kafr Yahmul camp for internally displaced people, northwestern Syria [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

But that optimism didn't last for long. In fact, even as people in northwestern Syria were digging for survivors, the bombs kept coming.

Less than two hours after the quakes hit, Assad's forces shelled the rebel-held town of Marea. They've continued to launch more than 1,200 attacks in the months since, according to monitoring groups.

Ahmad Hallak has seen the rescue and recovery efforts in Syria up close. He's an aid worker who has volunteered with the White Helmets and now works for a charity that delivers supplies to people living in tent camps. Hear some of the stories that have stayed with him from the past year in the video below.

Video Duration 02 minutes 29 seconds
Crisis upon crisis in Syria

To hear more about the impact of this earthquake on a country that's already been in crisis for more than a decade, listen to the full episode of The Take podcast.

One year later

February 6, 2024

It has been a year since the earthquakes that shook Turkey and Syria.

For those trying to rebuild their communities, that time has seemed short given the scale of the damage. For survivors who lost loved ones in the disaster, on the other hand, a year has felt like an eternity of grief.

The Kurt family in Kahramanmaras, who filmed themselves from under the rubble, have struggled to fill the void left by the death of their youngest son, Bilal.

Bilal's mother, Fatma, told Al Jazeera that her husband's hair and beard have turned completely white, while her two surviving sons have not recovered emotionally from the loss of their brother and their constant fear of more earthquakes.

Fatma said she cried every day over Bilal, imagining what they would be doing if he was still alive. But then she discovered a letter from one of her teenage sons that said he wanted to die, too, because he missed Bilal and had no one to share his pain with.

"When I saw this letter, I started to hold on to life again for my children." She recalled a line her son wrote in his letter: "God gave us this life. We have to live."

Fatma said she now feels more determined to get through the grief, for the sake of her family. "I cry without showing them. I'm sad without showing them. I tell them that Bilal is in a good place. They know - but it's hard."

One year on, the Kurt family is living in a temporary apartment block built by the government along with about 400 other quake survivors. They still don't know what will happen to their previous home or where they will end up.

Turkey quake
New buildings for earthquake survivors are under construction in Diyarbakir, Turkey [Reuters]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to rebuild the affected areas within a year. He pledged to deliver 319,000 new homes in the earthquake zone by February 2024 and a total of 650,000 by the following year. However, according to figures from the Turkish Ministry of Urbanisation, only approximately 46,000 units had been completed by the end of last year, while construction had started for about 260,000 others.

Al Jazeera's podcast The Take approached the Turkey Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) for comment but did not receive an answer.

Anxiety about housing has rippled across Turkey as fears about building safety have spiked in the country's other seismic zones.

Istanbul, Turkey's largest city with a population of approximately 16 million people, launched a new programme to test the earthquake resistance of apartments and offices.

Those considered beyond repair were ordered to be demolished, while the municipal government offered loans and grants to reinforce other vulnerable units. But a cost of living crisis, which has included soaring real estate prices, has forced many residents to choose between making expensive repairs themselves and remaining in buildings at risk from earthquakes.

People watch an excavator demolishing an old apartment building in Istanbul [Khalil Hamra/AP Photo]
People watch an excavator demolishing an old apartment building in Istanbul [Khalil Hamra/AP Photo]

Outside the major cities, in the rural parts of the earthquake zone, the choices are more limited - and the consequences more stark.

Recovery in the villages

Aysel Turkey quake

Seventy-year-old Aysel Tasin has spent more than half her life in the village of Zey. The tiny community in Adiyaman Province had a population of about 700 people who mostly farmed the land and raised animals. Her husband built their home himself using stones and mud bricks. When the earthquakes hit, the house crumbled. "He opened his eyes and said, 'Aysel, run away, save your life. The earthquake is happening,'" she recalled.

Aysel didn't make it out of their house before it fell down, but she survived and spent days trapped next to the body of her husband before her neighbours finally managed to pull her out. She then dug a grave by herself and buried her husband. Rescue teams were unable to reach the village for more than a week.

Almost every house in Zey was destroyed by the earthquakes. Like her neighbours, Aysel has no money or resources to rebuild her home. She stayed with her daughter in Adiyaman city for a week after the quakes, but decided to return to the village where she felt at home.

The government has provided steel containers for them to live in near Zey. Each unit measures little more than five square metres and contains basic furnishings with extra items like carpets and clothing either salvaged from the ruins of their old homes or received as donations.

Aysel occasionally visits the site of her old home. The hillside path is covered in stones that can make it hard to climb. But she still goes, walking slowly, to remember. "I'll go there during the day. I'll eat and drink tea, and at night, I'll come back and sleep here."

As Turkey marks a year since the earthquakes, one question remains: Is the country better prepared to handle the next "big one"?

Belit Tasdemir is hopeful. He has worked with the AKUT Search and Rescue Association in Turkey for more than 15 years. He thinks greater public awareness and stricter building policies introduced following last February's earthquakes are important first steps. He also says lessons have been learned which will improve the emergency response for next time.

Tasdemir was on the ground coordinating rescue teams in Turkey last February. He concedes that there were errors in communication and organisation that slowed down operations. But he adds that this was the largest disaster he and many of his colleagues had ever faced. "There is no government in the world that would be able to prepare for coordination or response to something at this scale perfectly," he told Al Jazeera's The Take.

Exercises have been held since then to train teams and agencies in different provinces to work together more effectively. "I think the point of improvement for next time is for Turkish national assets, NGOs, or the government to work together. It doesn't matter which uniform they wear as long as the function is executed," Tasdemir says.

Rescue workers rest above a collapsed building in Adiyaman, southern Turkey [Emrah Gurel/AP]
Rescue workers rest above a collapsed building in Adiyaman, southern Turkey [Emrah Gurel/AP]

The survivors we have followed for the past year say there are still moments when they are struck again by the grief, fear, destruction and uncertainty they lived through during the earthquakes.

But despite the changes and losses they've endured, they are now focused on moving forward with their lives.

Video Duration 04 minutes 03 seconds
One year later