The last time we heard from Chris Sturm and Mariah Oxford, they were serving with the Peace Corps in Moldova. Last week, they were on vacation, in Turkey. They emailed us with a firsthand account of living through the deadly earthquake.

This is Chris and Mariah writing to you from Istanbul, where we have been on vacation for the past few days. My mom said you might be interested in news from us about the earthquake. Actually, news for us has been difficult to get since we can't speak Turkish and all the news reports here are in that language.

We are staying in a youth hostel a stone's throw from the famous Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque. We woke up when the quake hit Tuesday morning. After spending a few days of our vacation on boat and ferry rides, we were wondering if we were back on the water because the buildings were rocking like the boats had been. The quake lasted a long time-- the reports say 45 seconds. We got up for awhile to check things out but this neighborhood isn't too residential so we didn't see much. We felt the aftershocks all night long. We lost electricity and water a few minutes after the initial quake and lived with that through Tuesday until about 5pm our time. Fortunately, we are used to those kinds of conditions in Moldova but were hoping not to return to them quite so soon!

In walking around the Sultanahamet area yesterday morning, we saw little damage-- broken windows, cornerpieces on the ground and some buildings pulling away from each other. Most businesses were closed, including the famous Grand Bazaar of 4,000 shops, which just had a sign ''Closed-- Problems.'' Some street vendors and kids selling postcards were still trying to salvage the shopping day. Generator companies made big business as shops tried to keep their huge stock of ice cream from melting.

We were also able to buy a phone card to try and call home but the lines were long at the phones and no one was getting through. Everyone was desperate to call home and let family know they were okay, as families were frantically trying to call into Istanbul for the same reason. We think the international lines may still be down and are pretty grateful the electricity came back on so we could use internet.

Embassies, as well, were trying to find all the citizens to find out if any nationals were hurt or killed, as we heard from a Swedish man who was required to check in personally at the Swedish embassy today.

We did see hundreds of people laying in park areas and medians on blankets and cardboard. They had waterjugs, teapots and food. The adults didn't look too shocked and the kids were all excited and playing on the occasion of this big event that had interrupted their summer holiday.

We talked to a few Turks and other people who said that most residents had gone immediately out of doors once the quake hit (some having jumped out of windows) and had stayed there all day, not sure if they were going back that night (in fact, many did not).

This morning in the Turkish daily news, reports indicated that citizens were very upset with the slow or nonexistent rescue efforts, which have been hindered by damage, crowds of people trying to get to loved ones, and the lack of electricity. They have been forming their own teams to try and rescue people trapped under rubble but are thwarted by lack of equipment themselves. We're sure Turkey will welcome all the aid from those countries who have been sending goods and people.

Things seem to have returned somewhat to normal, at least in this part of the city we are in. However, the reports we've been seeing from Izmit and other areas of Istanbul even are pretty horrifying. We are amazed at how lucky we were.

Chris Sturm

Mariah Oxford

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online August 28, 1999

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