By Ononye VC
Only a few hours after Bassel Habkouk, a young Lebanese Catholic and father of two, arrived for a visit in Turkey on Feb. 6, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country and nearby Syria.
Habkouk found himself trapped underneath the rubble of fallen buildings for 52 hours as a result of the devastating earthquake, which killed more than 50,000 people and injured many more with tens of thousands still missing and hundreds of thousands homeless, according to the Associated Press.
Miraculously, Habkouk survived, and he recently shared with ACI MENA, CNA’s Arabic-language news partner, details of his ordeal and the role the Virgin Mary played in it.
Habkouk was out with his good friend, Elias Al-Haddad, when the earthquake hit. The pair fell to the ground after debris fell on them.
“Elias Al-Haddad spoke to me after the accident and asked for my help, but I was unable to move and help,” Habkouk recalled. “After about six hours, I no longer heard his voice.”
Sadly, Al-Haddad did not survive, and Habkouk’s own journey to survival began.
“I stayed under the rubble for 52 hours, becoming stuck in a block about 2 metres long and 40 centimetres wide,” he recounted. “Exposed to the cold air without knowing where it came from, I did not feel hungry or thirsty, although I still had some food in my possession.”
Habkouk considered the most difficult moment under the rubble was when the rescue team contacted him in the evening of the second day.
“I found a plastic pipe about a metre long, and used it to hit the debris around me, signaling to the rescuers to know where I was,” he said, but after knowing his location, they rescued another man beside him who was calling out in pain.
After five hours of relief work that continued until 2 a.m. the next day, the rescue of the other man was complete and the rescue workers left. Habkouk feared they would leave him stranded because he is not a Turkish citizen.
From 2 to 7 a.m. Habkouk, once again alone, clung to his will and began to think of alternate ways to escape.
The rosary and the Virgin Mary
Habkouk described his first moments under the rubble and his immediate prayer: “When the rubble fell on me, I fell to the ground, crying out from the bottom of my heart: O MARY!”
“I continued to call the Virgin Mary for the next 40 seconds until the earthquake stopped,” he continued. “Then I prayed the rosary from under the rubble. God protected me, and the Virgin Mary did not leave me.”
Habkouk said prayer gave him the power to resist despair and strengthened his faith that he would be rescued.
Fifty-two hours after he became trapped, at 7 a.m. on Feb. 8, Habkouk was rescued by a Turkish security team.