Warning – this piece contains details that some readers may find distressing.
We look back on the city of Gaziantep and drive deeper into the snow-flecked mountainside of south-eastern Turkey.
It is increasingly remote terrain, yet it feels so familiar – village after village bearing the same devastating scars.
We stop at a small place we learn is called Ördekdede and stumble into a Turkish community where their dead now outnumber the living.
This is a grim new reality for so many dots of the map across the huge corridor of this region where the ground shook most violently.
The last people we expect to find among the survivors in this secluded spot – huddling around a fire, sipping tea – are two Londoners.
Mehmet and Fatma Meter are from Finsbury Park, north London.
“This earthquake has destroyed everything,” says Fatma, as she wipes tears with her scarf.
“We arrived in Turkey before the earthquake for my brother’s funeral,” Mehmet explains. “But now we’ve had to bury seven of our family.”
They take us on a journey to document where each precious life was lost.
So we pick our way through their decimated community, which is now a grotesque jumble of broken bricks, twisted metal and dusty rubble.
Fatma leads us along the path before stopping, pointing to a corner of the wreckage where she says the first of three relatives perished.
“We tried to save them. The voice was coming from there, so [we] rushed to help. Ali was shouting from under the rubble, ‘save me, save me’.
“We saved Ali. But Şemsi, Kemal, Ayse, there was no answer, nothing.”
Kemal and Şemsi were married, their daughter Ayse just 16. Their 20-year-old old son, Alican, is the only survivor from the house and is now in hospital with a broken leg.
“Just one day before we ate dinner together,” Fatma says.
“One day later all of these people die. How can I believe it?”
Fatma shakes her head as she relives how she helped to carry the bodies from the debris and took them away for the burial.
Among the many heaps of bricks now crowned with a twisted piece of corrugated iron are the remains of Mehmet’s father’s house.
It’s hard to imagine anyone getting out alive.
But 87-year-old Abdi Meter did.
“His chair fell against a wall and opened up a way for him to escape. I can’t believe he did it.”
It is a few steps up the road where Mehmet stops in his tracks and reveals the picture in his mind that is haunting him.
The image of his young nephew Umut Efe’s body.
“A sofa was pushing him up towards the sky. And then I saw his face looking me in the eyes. He had passed two days ago and his colour had changed. He was nearly five.”
The memory is too raw and he waves his hand in front of his face before turning away sobbing.
If there is any possible small mercy in this scene of ruination, it’s that the earthquake struck in winter when fewer homes in the village were occupied.
During the summer, it’s a different story as members of the Turkish diaspora in France, Germany as well as the UK return to see relatives and enjoy a nourishing dose of nostalgia from their childhoods.
Just along the road we find Siho Yukselir, a lorry driver who has spent the last 30 years calling London home, living in Golders Green.
As he contemplates the wreckage of his own family’s house, he conveys the disbelief and anger that’s characterised so many people we’ve met over the past few days.
“I’m very very shocked. I can’t stop crying. I was born in this village,” he tells us.
“I lost everything. No insurance, no nothing and the government’s not helping. You have to do it yourself again.”
For now, in the depths of grief and exhaustion, rebuilding this shattered community feels like an overwhelming, maybe impossible, task.
Before we leave Ördekdede, we ask Fatma and Mehmet when they will fly back to the UK.
Fatma pauses. “How can I do it? I don’t know. How can I go back to London?”
With Turkey in this desperate state, she cannot leave her homeland.
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