He Never Left The Hand Of His Daughter – More than 20,000 people have been confirmed dead as a result of the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria, making it one of the deadliest disasters in a decade.
One man sits still as men scramble over the ruins of the pancaked building, now shaped like a rubble pyramid.
Mesut Hançer, wearing an orange coat to keep warm in the winter, perches on concrete slabs and twisted rebar — all that remains of the apartment block in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, near the epicentre of Monday’s earthquake.
His face is still blank, as is his expression. He is heartbroken but steadfast: he will not let go of his daughter’s hand.
When the building collapsed, Irmak, 15, was killed. The girl’s body is sandwiched between a mattress, dirt, and the massive weight of the building’s upper floors. All that can be seen is her father’s lifeless, pale hand, which he grips firmly.
“He never left the hand of his daughter who died in the earthquake,” Adem Atlan, the Agence France-Presse photographer who photographed the grieving father on Tuesday, wrote in an Instagram story posted Wednesday.
“Unbelievable pain,” he wrote later.
Altan’s photos went viral online and were printed on front pages of newspapers all over the world on Wednesday, from Turkey to Spain to the United Kingdom to the United States.
“With the courage of despair,” read the headline in Belgium’s De Standaard newspaper alongside the photo.
“A glimpse of pain and desperation among the ruins,” Brazil’s O Globo newspaper captioned the image.
A 2015 Facebook photo of Mesut and Irmak shows the father and daughter smiling as they pose by a small water fountain. Almost eight years later, a different photograph of the couple has become a defining image of tragedy.
Irmak is just one of the tens of thousands of people killed by Monday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which devastated large swaths of Turkey and neighbouring Syria.
According to Associated Press estimates on Thursday, more than 20,000 people died, making the disaster one of the deadliest in the last decade.
There are few more traumatised parts of the world where the earthquake could have hit than Syria’s northwest.
According to David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, that country, which has been plagued for more than a decade by a civil war that has wrought devastation and triggered a global refugee crisis, already had 15 million people in need of humanitarian aid before the tremor began.
“One of the deadliest earthquakes this century, followed by hundreds of aftershocks, now adds to a litany of devastation,” Miliband said in a statement obtained by News, calling for aid to “skyrocket” to meet the desperate need.
Three days after the earthquake, the first convoy of aid trucks arrived in the opposition-held Idlib region of Syria’s northwest on Thursday. The trucks arrived via the only crossing with the Turkish border authorised by the UN, but which had been closed for days due to damage.
However, the White Helmets, a humanitarian organisation that works in the region, stated that the aid was simply the same supplies that were available prior to the disaster. “It is not special aid and equipment for search and rescue teams, as well as the recovery of those trapped beneath the rubble,” the group stated on Twitter. “We are disappointed at a time when we desperately need equipment to help us save lives from beneath the rubble.”
According to the White Helmets, nearly 2,000 people have died in the region. Many of those killed had fled destruction and violence elsewhere in Syria, only to perish when buildings collapsed.
As time passes, hopes of finding more people alive fade — but there are still miracles. The White Helmets posted a photo of a young girl named Sham being rescued from the rubble on Thursday. Her two siblings, according to the group, were also saved, but their mother was killed.
A small contingent of 87 rescue workers from Ukraine, which has been plagued by war for the past year, is among the international figures who have arrived in the region to assist in relief and recovery efforts.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service posted images on Facebook of workers searching for signs of life in damaged buildings in Turkey.
“Our first priority is to conduct search and rescue operations — to find the living people!” said spokesperson Oleksandr Khorunzhiy. “We haven’t found anyone yet, but we’re looking. The work continues around the clock.”