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Photo of Turkish man holding hand of dead daughter underlines earthquake despair

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It has been a week since the massive earthquakes in Turkey and Syria destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of people. There has been a lot of sad news in the past week, including the photo of a father sitting in the rubble holding the hand of his deceased daughter. The man, named Mesut Hançer (49), now tells his story to Turkish media. ” I held her hand and caressed her face. That’s all I could do.”

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The much-shared photo was taken the morning after the first earthquake by photographer Adem Altan from the AFP news agency. He was in Kahramanmaraş, a Turkish province that was hit hard, and saw how residents themselves tried to save their loved ones who were under the rubble. Rescue workers were still missing.

From a distance, Adem also saw Mesut, who sat silently looking ahead. “When I looked closer I saw that he was holding a hand ,” the photographer told The Guardian. “So I started taking pictures.”

The hand that Mesut refused to let go of was that of his 15-year-old daughter Imrak, who died while lying in bed. “‘Take a picture of my child,’ he shouted. Then he let go of his hand and showed me his child ,” says Adem. “My eyes were full of tears and I struggled not to cry when I took the pictures.”

Mesut himself was working in his bakery at the time of the earthquake. After a phone call he found out that his wife, two daughters and son were safe, but his youngest daughter, Imrak, did not answer. She was visiting her grandmother for a few days.

Once at the building, Mesut found his daughter under the rubble. It just wasn’t easy to clean up. “There was no possibility to get an excavator in that place ,” said the father. ” Turkish disaster relief said the building would collapse if the excavator got close.”

Mesut decided to take matters into his own hands. “I tried to dig with my bare hands to save my princess, but I couldn’t get her out. I prayed a lot, but unfortunately it didn’t work.”

Eventually, Mesut received help from rescuers, who managed to free Imrak’s body. “With picks and a shovel. I didn’t want to let go of her hand for a moment, there was no other choice for me. My only consolation is that my daughter slept like an angel and went without pain.” In addition to his daughter, Mesut lost six family members to the earthquakes, including his mother and two brothers.

Imrak has since been buried. The grief that Mesut – and with him many other Turks and Syrians – has is great. ” It is terrible to bury your mother, father or brother, but to give up your own child… that is indescribable. She took my life, my heart and my arms with her when she died.”

The death toll from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria has risen to at least 35,000. The search for people under the rubble is about to come to an end as the chances of survivors shrink. Miracles still happen here and there. For example, a 40-year-old woman was rescued this morning who had been detained for 170 hours, according to Turkish Tele1.

Emergency responders are now focusing on the next difficult operation: providing shelter, food and relief supplies to affected people. Providing psychological help is also quite a job.

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