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Turks Suffer Post-Quake Shock

August 28, 1999

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) _ Evren Berk wanted to jump out of the bus when it jolted over a bump. He thought it was another earthquake.

Before Aug. 17 tore his life apart, he was an outgoing boy of 16. Now he sits in a room at a relative’s house, clutching his brother’s hand.

Berk is only one of thousands suffering from post-quake trauma following the magnitude-7.4 quake in western Turkey that killed more than 13,000, injured tens of thousands and left about 600,000 homeless.

``We hugged each other and waited for death,″ said his mother, Mine Berk. The family lost their home, and she said, ``I don’t know how he will overcome this.″

Experts say most people suffer from post-quake disorders for more than six months. Arif Verimli, head doctor of Bakirkoy psychiatric hospital, fears the trauma could scar a generation.

``The whole country has been affected emotionally by this quake,″ Verimli said. His hospital has prepared a booklet with such advice as: ``Don’t refrain from talking about your ordeal,″ and ``Think about life’s meaning and draw plans for the future.″

Tens of thousands of people are in mourning, and experts say a larger group has become terrified of earthquakes. People complain of anxiety, inability to sleep, fear of another earthquake, death and being alone.

In a country where few people visit psychiatrists or seek therapy or counseling, it was surprising to see dozens of mostly blue-collar people outside Bakirkoy hospital. Groups were gathering outside hospital tents in razed areas. Turks are often reticent to externalize their problems and rarely seek help outside their family.

``I can’t sleep, I can’t stay alone,″ said Neslihan Alinhan, 17, as she left Bakirkoy with a prescription for tranquilizers and sleeping pills.

For those who have lost homes and livelihoods, the quake has generated problems of self-esteem, confidence and lack of purpose in life.

To help, hot lines have been set up by public and private hospitals, medical groups and broadcast media.

``If the symptoms are overwhelming, we invite them here,″ said Sedef Cevik, a Bakirkoy psychiatrist who answers the hospital’s ``Light of Hope″ hot line.

For the 600 people rescued from the rubble, things are more severe. They undergo grave mental disorders, complicated by loss of limbs or ailments like kidney disfunction, which is due to dehydration.

Muzaffer Uyar, a psychiatrist at the International Hospital in Istanbul, said it was difficult to talk and communicate with people who spent long hours pinned under collapsed buildings.

``We had to amputate the foot of a survivor, but we will tell him later,″ Uyar said. ``Many of them are still in shock and they cannot speak.″

Ismail Cimen, a 4-year old boy who was rescued after spending 146 hours buried in the debris of his home, reluctantly uttered a few words to reporters who met with him.

Asked by a television reporter whether he felt good, he only managed to nod a ``no″ before turning his eyes away.

Uyar said many people pulled from the rubble were in a state of ``emotional isolation,″ and were having a difficult time realizing what happened to them.

``They are in a huge gap,″ said Uyar.

Another group requiring special attention are the estimated 220,000 homeless children who will need extra care and counseling.

Rune Stuvland, a psychologist with the U.N. Children’s Fund, said many children had experienced deep trauma. Shelters will need recreational, ``child-friendly spaces,″ and some big tents were already being turned into playgrounds for children.

Verimli said Bakirkoy hospital was working to set up two field units where psychiatrists can help children suffering from shock. Experts say there is also an urgent need mobilize teachers, after a short course on how to fight the psychological affects of the earthquake.

``They are battling with losing families, friends, everything,″ Uyar said.

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