They brought out eight members of one family, wiped out in minutes

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The Independent Online
HER LEGS just crumpled up under her. She fell to the ground like someone who had lost the will to live. "Not this much," she shouted, "not this much."

Her name was Selda and she was waiting outside the heap of flattened rubble that had been her sister's home. Her hopes had been raised when a bystander told her he had heard voices from the building. But then he said he had heard nothing since last night, and before our eyes, she gave up hope.

It was happening all over Duzce. You could see it in the dark, haunted look in people's eyes. Turkey has faced its earthquake tragedy with formidable courage, but for many, the new quake which ripped through here on Friday night, was too much to bear.

They dragged the body of a four-year-old out of a ruined building here yesterday. And, one by one, they dragged out the rest of the family: eight bodies, a family wiped out in minutes.

Across the town, I watched as rescue workers broke the news to a mother and her two daughters that their father was dead, crushed as a hotel collapsed on the cafe where he was eating. The two young women just clung to each other and wept. Their grief was unbearable to look at. The mother begged the rescuers to keep looking. They told her gently: "He's dead."

It is hard to understand how anyone can suffer as much as Saime Yilmaz. Her 10-year-old son is in a wheelchair, his body twisted with a crippling bone disease. Her husband has cancer. Her home was destroyed in the massive quake that killed at least 17,000 in August. Her family had been in a new flat for one month when last night's quake came and flattened that too. Now they are back in tent city, facing an icy winter under canvas.

The things lying in the rubble bring it home to you. Only a day ago, they were part of a home. A brightly coloured pillow or a child's toy: little pieces of broken lives.

Everybody was looking for answers in Duzce yesterday. Some said that there was water under the town, and the ground was unstable. "This won't be the last, there'll be more," said Sinasi Yuksel. "There are always earthquakes at the end of a millennium. It's a natural cycle." They've blamed it on everything else - God, Turkey's rejection of Islamic life, politicians, the greedy construction companies that throw up woefully inadequate buildings - why not the millennium?

At least, as mankind prepares to celebrate the millennium, it was a reminder of how small and helpless we are. After all this time, we can't predict an earthquake, and the most advanced device we have for finding the trapped and the dead is a sniffer dog.

Turkey's Islamic fundamentalists claimed that August's quake was God's way of punishing the army for removing an Islamist government. This time it was a soldier who was saying the dead deserved it: "It's the punishment of God on the whole world for being so wicked," a private told me, while all around him the relatives of his "sinners" wept.

Twenty years ago, there would have been a fraction of the casualties, because Turkey was not covered with shoddily built apartment blocks. But yesterday the people's anger seemed spent. There were no lynch mobs. They did not jeer the Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, when he visited, but stood in silence.

Alaattin Sardak summed up the mood best: "It was an earthquake, what else can we say?" he asked me. "Only God knows why Turkey has to suffer so many." He was an impressive sight, a man who lost his home standing calmly amid the ruins of his town. "You think I look calm?" he said. "No. My heart is broken."