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Quake survivors in Turkey line up to file damage claims, missing person reports


In southern Turkey, people are still searching for the remains of their missing loved ones more than 2 1/2 months after earthquakes killed tens of thousands. NPR's Fatma Tanis reports from the city of Antakya, where crews continue to use heavy equipment to clear the rubble.

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: Posters of missing people line the gates outside of the city's main courthouse. It's too damaged to use and now operates out of portable containers. Earthquake survivors are lined up to file damage claims and missing person reports. Cihat Acikalin is the head of the Hatay Bar Association. That's the province that oversees Antakya. He says there are around 500 cases in this city alone, and the reasons are complicated.

CIHAT ACIKALIN: (Through interpreter) You've seen for yourself how bad it is. The earthquake was so strong. And because of the delay in search and rescue, and in the chaos of the aftermath, people mistakenly took and buried bodies that were not their relatives or friends.

TANIS: He also says they expect more bodies to be found as machines continue to clear rubble.

ACIKALIN: (Through interpreter) There were also entire families who died that night, so it's hard to know how many are missing from a family when there are no surviving members to notify us.

TANIS: Many people here were buried without identification in the first days after the quake. Others were rushed to hospitals also without ID and are now slowly being reunited with surviving family. But for those who are searching for missing loved ones, like Osman Tanar (ph), it's been grueling and painful. I reach him over the phone because, like most survivors, he's left Antakya and is staying with friends in a town a few hours away.

OSMAN TANAR: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: When the earthquake hit, Tanar and his family carried their children out of the apartment as their building crumbled behind them. As soon as he was able, he headed to check on his brother and saw their building had been completely destroyed.

TANAR: (Through interpreter) I saw my brother's furniture in the rubble, but I couldn't see him or his family or hear from them. We waited day and night as rescue teams worked for six days to recover survivors and bodies. And then they left. And we were left there with six other families who couldn't find their relatives, dead or alive.

TANIS: They searched hospitals and graveyards in several provinces to no avail. They've also handed their DNA samples to forensic investigators and are now awaiting results. Ahmet Hilal, a forensics professor at Cukurova University and the head of Turkey's forensic medicine association, says thousands of missing people have been identified so far via DNA samples, few of them survivors.

AHMET HILAL: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: He says, according to official numbers, there are around 1,200 people still missing in the quake zone.

HILAL: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: But, Hilal says, several fires broke out in the rubble, making it even harder to find or identify remains. And that's why Osman Tanar, the man searching for his brother's family, wants authorities to go through the rubble of his brother's building again and more carefully.

TANAR: (Through interpreter) We know there was a fire somewhere in my brother's building after it collapsed. The concrete was warm in some areas. Maybe they will find a piece of bone. And then we can say our family died in a fire in the rubble. And we can take that bone and bury it in a grave.

(Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: It's been a long and painful process for more than two months, he says. He's tired. And every time they think they found a trace, he raises his hopes only to have them crushed again.

Fatma Tanis, NPR News, Antakya, Turkey.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.