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Ghanaian footballer Okyere recounts earthquake escape

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Ghana midfielder Priscilla Okyere is terrified of going to sleep, afraid that another earthquake might happen when she is in bed. The 27-year-old plays for Hatayspor in southern Turkey, and is a survivor of the devastating quake that struck there on Monday.

The earthquake is already considered the worst worldwide in a decade. So far it is known to have killed over 20,000 people in Turkey and Syria – a toll that will certainly rise.

Hatayspor is the club whose men’s team Okyere’s compatriot Christian Atsu plays for. Atsu, along with the club’s sporting director Taner Savut, remains missing.

“I have not been sleeping for four days – I’m so scared to go to sleep,” Okyere told BBC Sport Africa.

“Even today, we had a safe place to sleep. I haven’t closed my eyes from 5am til now.

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“When someone bangs the door, I wake up because I’m scared. I don’t want to close my eyes and realise this thing is happening again.”

Okyere is now in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, after her coach arranged for her and her seven roommates to leave Hatay after the earthquake.

But the ordeal left her scarred.

“I was terrified. I cried for days,” she explained.

“I can’t imagine how lucky we were to get out from that situation, because most people couldn’t get out. But we were able to.”

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Okyere joined Hatayspor six months ago from Israeli club Tel-Aviv Beersheva.

Like most people who live in southern Turkey, the club’s players had felt tremors before. So when the earthquake struck in the early hours of Monday, she believed it was normal.

“We were coming from a game in Istanbul and we weren’t home until around 2am,” she said.

“We had to shower and then get some sleep. At first, I thought I was dreaming because since we came to Hatay, I experienced (tremors) it two times. Sometimes the building would just shake within 30 seconds and it stops.

“When it happened, I thought it was a normal thing but I realised this was much more intense than the previous ones.”

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She went to check on her team-mates, and then hurried outside as all around her began to crumble

“When I got down, the buildings were just collapsing, and everybody was crying, trying to find shelter,” she said.

“It was raining heavily outside, and everyone was cold. We were not wearing any jackets – nothing. We had gone outside barefoot.

“We weren’t even thinking about how cold we were at that moment. What we wanted to think about was how to get our passports.

“We had to find a shelter in someone’s car for almost five hours before the whole thing calmed down, and then we were able to go back to the house.”

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Though badly damaged, the building Okyere and her teammates lived in had not collapsed. But they had to leave the area, and with all public transport suspended, they wandered the streets looking for food.

They were immediately concerned that there was no way to get in contact with their families back home, even as news began to filter out to the wider world of the quake.

“The first thing that came into my mind was my mother, because she’s always worried about where I am always want to know what is going on,” Okyere said.

“But we couldn’t communicate directly to our family because all the networks were not working.

“But you could call within Turkey, So I spoke to my agent, and I gave him my mother’s number so he could to talk with her and make sure that everything is okay.”

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Eventually, Okyere and her teammates were able to leave Hatay.

While she and her teammates are safe, she said concern remains for other members of the wider Hatayspor club, including the men’s team and officials.

“We don’t know anything about the men’s team because they live far from us, even though we live in the same city,” she explained.

“But our brother (Christian) Atsu, we always talk to him on phone. He texts us all the time.

“Since the incident happened, nobody knows his whereabouts. We don’t even know what is happening.”

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Okyere said she is trying to remain positive in the face of all the devastation, and her biggest wish right now is to go home to Ghana to spend some time with her family.

“For Hatayspor our season is over because the city is destroyed,” she said.

“For management, we don’t know anything about their whereabouts. So for us we know that for the men and the women the season is over,.

“We will try to look for another club because I think that most clubs are also interested in some players from Hatayspor. I think hopefully maybe we will get something.

“For me, only thing that is in my mind right now is I just want to go back to Ghana. At least have one week or two weeks rest with the family.”

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-BBC

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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