By Umit Bektas
At 13:41pm on Sunday, October 23 an earthquake measuring 7.2 magnitude hit the eastern Turkish province of Van. Minutes after the quake struck, first reports heralded large numbers of collapsed buildings with many people trapped under the debris. The first available flight to Van was on Monday so I decided to fly to Erzurum instead and from there take a four-hour drive to Van. When I arrived at Ercis, the town which had taken the brunt of the quake, it was just past midnight.
It was difficult in the dark to form a clear picture of the disaster and decide what to look for. I began to walk around the town. I photographed rescue workers making efforts to pluck people from under the rubble, but I could not spend more than a few minutes at each spot as I still had to get an overall picture. I had decided to look around for 45 minutes at the most before starting to transmit my first pictures. That was my plan until I came upon that one collapsed building.
A large crowd had gathered around a big pile of rubble on a small side street. There were many rescuers and a distinctive hum was rising from the crowd. Frantic work was going on around the building which had totally collapsed and was now level with the ground. I came closer. A person shouted, “There is someone alive!” They were trying to bring out a person whose dark hair I could see. I began to take pictures. Then I moved to the other side to try and get a different angle. And then I saw Yunus’s face for the first time.
In the following days Turkish newspapers carried Yunus’s story extensively. That is how I learned he was the 13 year-old-son of a family with nine children. No one in his family was hurt and the quake had not even seriously damaged their house. The building which collapsed over Yunus housed an Internet cafe and Yunus was there early on a Sunday morning to browse the net and check his Facebook account. The newspapers later went through his Facebook account.
When I moved to the opposite side and he raised his eyes and looked straight at me, I had my zoom lens trained on his face. He certainly wasn’t aware of it but at that moment there was nothing and no one between him and my camera. It was as if the two of us were alone, like two people chatting intimately. His eyes were wide open and he seemed calmer than all the rest of us outside the rubble. He never cried. As he was carried to the ambulance, he reportedly said, “I’m late for home. Dad will be mad at me.”