Bird of hope amid a world destroyed

Andrew Buncombe@AndrewBuncombe
Friday 27 August 1999 23:02

THE BRIGHT green budgerigar preened itself in a dented cage, delivering its shrill admonishments in flawless Turkish. "Shut up! Shut up yourself!" it kept saying.

Its name is Pistachio and it is one of the few possessions the Karik family saved from their devastated home. Now they spend hours playing with the bird. They say it is therapeutic.

By the standards of the past 10 days, the story of the Karik family is not extraordinary. None of them died in the quake that killed 40,000 and left 200,000 homeless, none of them was even injured. But in the 45 seconds that shook their home to the ground they lost everything.

"I still remember the day we moved into the apartment," said Zeynip Karik, as she washed cups and plates outside their tent in Yalova on the shore of the Sea of Marmara. "For almost 18 years we had lived in rented accommodation and we had saved up to buy that place. It was our dream."

By Western standards, the Kariks' flat in a five-storey block was modest. It had three small bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom and a kitchen with a small balcony. It cost pounds 8,000 undecorated. Mrs Karik chose light blue paint for the walls. Five of them lived in the flat - the parents, their sons, Unal, an agricultural engineer, and Yuzel, a trainee school teacher, and Unal's pregnant wife, Pinar.

They say they were always suspicious of the workmanship. They worried at the width of the columns and the strength of reinforcing steel. But their builder told them not to worry.

The Kariks will never forget August 17 when their flat began to shake. Rushing from their beds, they remember being thrown against the walls. "All Muslims believe the world will end. We thought our time had come," said Unal. When the shaking stopped, their third-floor flat was at the bottom of the creaking building: the first two floors had disappeared.

"We clambered out over the balcony," said Mr Karik. "Everybody was screaming and shouting. It was a hot night and people were not wearing anything in bed. Everyone was running around trying to find something to cover themselves with - pieces of plastic, anything." For perhaps an hour the Kariks were too numb to move.

Then they heard friends and neighbours shouting for help. Mr Karik used his car to pull a piece of concrete off a neighbour and his wife, but it was too late for their three daughters. They also heard a man from the building next door. "We could hear him shouting for help," said Mrs Karik. "No one could get to him. Eventually the shouting stopped."

For two days there was no help from the government. Camped in a tent on a piece of waste ground next to their flat, the Kariks searched through the rubble with their bare hands.After six days, they moved to a camp for the homeless.

Mr Karik, the owner-driver of a lorry, cannot work because the factories he served are closed. Unal has sent his wife back to her family. Yuzel is unable to prepare for his final exams; his books are lost. The family had no insurance. "We have no idea how long we will be here," Mrs Karik said. "We have nothing to do but to sit here and wait."

The Turkish government has said it will rebuild the devastated towns and prosecute the contractors who used sub-standard materials. But outside their tent on the shore of the Sea of Marmara where they play with Pistachio, the Kariks are suspicious, doubting the promises will ever be fulfilled.

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