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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Patrick Hill in Hatay, Turkey

Love Island star Ekin-Su Culculoglu's emotional trip to Turkey earthquake zone

It was a heartbreaking moment that reduced Ekin-Su Culculoglu to tears during a visit to her family’s devastated homeland.

A little girl, a victim of the earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey, clung desperately to the Love Island and Dancing on Ice star and made what she thought was a simple request.

Ekin-Su said: “She wanted me to stay and be her mum because she had lost hers. I couldn’t hold my tears in. It felt very overwhelming.

“Some of the other children had also lost family members.

“I wish I could have taken them back to England. They feel alone and need love and support.”

Star surveys ruins (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

Ekin-Su, 28, was born in London and grew up in Loughton, Essex, but feels close to her family roots. She also holds Turkish citizenship after living in Istanbul for two years.

So she is back in the country three months after the disaster, to visit relatives and do whatever she can to help.

She joined British Red Cross workers in the southern province of Hatay to help with the ongoing relief mission.

The star pitched in with workers making thousands of meals by ­stirring giant pans of life-saving broth.

Ekin-Su gets a cuddle (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

And she dropped in on a children’s psychology session, where kids were drawing pictures to help express their feelings about losing loved ones.

They ended up draw-ing on Ekin-Su. They also played with her hair and posed for selfies with the star, who was in a Turkish soap opera before she found fame in the UK.

Psychologist Huseyin Arsland, 31, said: “All of them lost someone close. But children don’t know how to mourn and they are working on this.

“They are scared another earthquake will happen and it’s difficult for them to process. They are suffering from anxiety. It is anticipated this will continue for a long time.”

Kids and star take selfie (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

The catastrophe, described as Europe’s “worst natural disaster for a century” by the World Health Organisation, began in the early hours of February 6 with a series of tremors, including the first two which measured a massive 7.7 and 7.6 on the Richter scale.

They were followed by more than 11,000 aftershocks that left 107,200 people injured and at least 300,000 buildings damaged or destroyed.

More than 2.3 million Turks remain displaced, with most now living in camps where the threat of disease, including cholera, looms large.

Shocked Ekin-Su visited deserted neighbourhoods, where giant mounds of rubble are still piled beside endless rows of buildings that look like they have been blown up.

A camp in Hatay (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

Among those she spoke to in the shadow of the carnage was cleaner Hayriye Kus, 31, who was out walking with her two youngest children, Cuma, six, and Ecrin Mina, three.

Their old home is due to be demolished so they are living in a tent.

Speaking about the moment the quakes hit, Hayriye told Ekin-Su: “I thought our building was going to collapse so pulled my children together. I thought, ‘If we’re going to die, we should at least all be together’.

“My uncle’s wife and his three children died in the earthquake.

Tearful star with children who survived earthquake (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

“And now my sister’s five-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with cancer. They were moved from a tent to a container yesterday.”

Housewife Fatima Tahta, 37, who also lost relatives, shared terrifying memories. She said: “Some of my neighbours lost their family in front of their eyes. They are traumatised.

“When the first quake struck, I thought I had died. It was like a horror film. People were covered in blood, dust and shards of glass.”

Kudret Uzbabiz, 57, heads a centre that has a free shop full of essentials like nappies and powdered milk.

The Love Islander gets a new look (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

He lost a staggering 25 relatives in the horror, including his mum Gulseren, 77. But he told Ekin-Su: “My situation is not a unique thing here. There were dead mothers in the street still hugging their children.”

It is estimated the damage will cost the Turkish government $103.6billion to repair. And it is expected even more bodies will be found under the rubble. But Kudret insisted the area – on one of the most active fault systems in the world – will be rebuilt.

He said: “We will reconstruct our homes. The people here are determined not to give up.”

Ekin-Su, in Turkey with her Love Island boyfriend Davide Sanclimenti, 27, said: “This trip has made me realise a lot of things, including how blessed we are.

Ekin-Su stirs pot of broth (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

“Life isn’t about having expensive things. The most important things in life are living, loving and supporting each other.”

She added: “I wish I could stay longer and help more, but I’ve felt honoured to be here. I’ll come back again to do whatever I can.”

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