One year after quakes, relatives of those missing in luxury residence collapse cling hopes to a pile of rubble

Almost one year following the devasting earthquakes on Feb. 6 in Turkey’s southeast, 54 people from a collapsed luxury apartment complex, Rönesans Residence, in Hatay’s Antakya district remain missing. A rubble pile, just a few hundred meters from the site, gives family members potential hope of finding their loved ones’ remains.

Burcu Özkaya Günaydın / Gazete Duvar

When the first major tremor struck in the early hours on Feb. 6. 2023, the 2012 constructed luxurious apartment complex Rönesans Rezidans in Hatay’s Antakya district was meant to withstand it.

However, the tower of 249 apartments, sold as "a corner in paradise," collapsed, killing or trapping at least 800 people and leaving 54 missing.

Rönesans Residence became a graveyard for hundreds of people

Nearly a year after the earthquakes on Feb. 6, leveling large parts of Turkey’s southeast and northern Syria, leading to over 50,000 deaths according to official figures, relatives of the missing in the Rönesans tragedy continue searching for any sign of their loved ones.

According to Mehmet Şirin, a nearby resident involved in rescue efforts in the first days following the disaster, a large pile of rubble, around 600 meters away from the Rönesans’ site, featuring resembling concrete stones, could provide relatives with a glimmer of hope to find the remains of their loved oned.

About a week after the Rönesans’s collapse, rescue efforts were halted, and the rubble was moved to a vacant plot to clear up the roads, Şirin said, who closely followed the removal process. The area has remained largely untouched, according to Şirin.

"In the rubble you still find clothes, beds, shoes, everything. Normally, they sort out the iron after a building’s demolition, but this rubble still contains iron," he said.

However, recently, soil was dumped on the rubble due to the smell coming from the site, according to Şirin, with local residents also complaining about the odor during the summer heat.

Mehmet Şirin

Although different parts of rubble have now been piled up, the rubble could at least give a spark of hope to those searching for the remains of their loved ones, he said.

"We have experienced a terrible disaster, but the worst thing is waiting for someone missing and searching for a trace of them," he said.

'We want our government to search here'

Şirin’s claims give Bulut Özgür hope. For almost a year, Özgür has tirelessly searched for his missing 16-month-old daughter, Esila, and his 32 year-old wife Meryem Özgür, but to no avail.

Özgür Family

"I want the prosecutors to take action and search the rubble again," he said. "Maybe we will find a trace. We want our government to search here. If necessary, let the missing peoples’ relatives unite. Let us search whether we need a digger or something else."

Similarly, Suna Öztürk is calling out to the government to excavate the area. In order to at least find a bone of her daughter Tuğba Koşar and grandchildren. The three-year-old Mustafa Kemal and one-year-old Mehmet Akif Koşar, got trapped under the Rönesans building and remain missing.

"We are in need of a bone. I am in pursuit of every hope that I can find that bone," Öztürk said. "A year will pass, and they will all be counted as dead, as if they never existed. They don’t even have a grave. I am calling out the prosecutors, the state, our President. Please search here again. Maybe the bones of my Tuğba and my grandchildren are here."

‘We are experiencing great pain’

While Cemile İncili found the bodies of her son and daughter-in-law amidst the rubble, her 3-year-old grandson Ömer Kutay Bozdemir, remains missing. Şirin’s words give her hope to finally her family a form of relief.

“We are experiencing great pain. This pain will never go away, it never ends," İncili said. "I didn’t have my daughter-in-law’s grave built because I thought I might find her son’s bone and put it in her arms," she said. "Please let the search be carried out in that specified place. Maybe something will come up."

The Hatay Governorship has been contacted but did not comment. Despite stating that "a response would be made on the issue," no clarification has been given.

(English version by Wouter Massink)