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Father who lost daughter in Türkiye quakes: ‘Pain is indescribable’

A photo of a father holding his daughter’s hand killed in Türkiye’s February 6 earthquake has provoked an outpouring of sympathy and support from around the world, he told AFP.

Around three weeks after the disaster that killed more than 44,000 people in Türkiye and thousands more in neighbouring Syria, AFP photographer Adem Altan tracked down Mesut Hancer in the capital Ankara.

He had moved there from Kahramanmaras, near the epicentre of the quake.

As well as his daughter, lost under the ruins of an eight-storey block of flats, “I lost my mother, my brothers, my nephews in the quake,” said Hancer.

“But nothing compares to burying a child. The pain is indescribable.”

The Haunting Image 

The image of Hancer wearing an orange jacket against the cold and rain while holding his daughter’s hand emerging from the rubble, was published on many newspaper front pages and seen millions of times online.

It became a symbol of a disaster that devastated tens of thousands of lives, drawing special attention to his family.

Now, a businessman has offered the former baker an administrative job at a TV channel and given the family an apartment in Ankara. 

Meanwhile a painting of Hancer’s daughter Irmak as an angel alongside her father, donated by an artist, hangs in their living room.

“I couldn’t let go of her hand. My daughter was sleeping like an angel in her bed,” he recalled.

Hancer was working in his bakery when the quake hit at 4:17 am (0117 GMT).

Calling home, he found his wife and three adult children were safe at home in their one-storey house, although it was damaged as the earth shook.

‘I held her hand, I stroked her hair, I kissed her cheeks’

But no-one could reach Irmak, the youngest, who had stayed the night at her grandmother’s house.

She had planned to spend time with cousins visiting from Istanbul and Hatay.

Rushing to his mother’s building, Hancer found the eight-storey block collapsed into a mound of rubble.

In the middle, amid the debris of everyday life, was his daughter.

Before a rescue team arrived, Hancer and other local people tried to find their loved ones under the ruins themselves, even trying – and failing – to shift concrete blocks by hand.

Unable to recover Irmak’s body, he remained sat by her side.

“I held her hand, I stroked her hair, I kissed her cheeks,” he recalls.

Later, he saw Adem Altan taking photos of the scene.

“Take pictures of my child,” he said in a quiet, broken voice.

READ MORE: Teary father celebrates daughter’s rescue by Türkiye miners

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