Survivors band together in Turkey’s earthquake-hit Gaziantep

It has been a week since a massive earthquake instantly changed tens of thousands of Turkish and Syrian lives.

A 7.8-magnitude quake erased thousands of buildings across 10 Turkish cities, devastating entire villages across the border in northern Syria as well.

The death toll surpassed 33,000 in both countries on Sunday, making it the deadliest earthquake in decades in the region.

Rescue teams and assistance were taking longer than expected because of winter weather and heavy damage to the roads.

As civilians complained, many supplied their own aid as they could, organising a response neighbourhood by neighbourhood to help and support each other.

Volunteer Nidal Memik helps with tent construction [Abdulsalam Jarroud/Al Jazeera]
‘Complete terror’
A few hours after the quake, restaurant owners and bars opened their doors distributing hot tea, bread, and a safe place to protect victims from the cold.

At Kebabçi Yalçin, in the neighbourhood of Gazimuhtar in Gaziantep, owner Mehmet Taşdelen immediately went to open his ground-floor restaurant as a refuge for those who just witnessed such a traumatic experience.

“In this street there are only high buildings, people were running in complete terror in every direction,” Taşdelen tells Al Jazeera.

“When I saw that, I ran to open my restaurant at around 6am on the morning of the big quake. I started a couple of fires as we all stood together, waiting for the ground to stop shaking.”

In the coming days, he left the door of his restaurant open for anyone needing a warm place and meal.

“If we didn’t die in the quake, we might die of hunger or cold,” says Ahmet, 64, who preferred not to share his last name, as he picked up a pot of hot noodles from the restaurant.

He parked his car not far from Kebabçi Yalçin, where he’s been sleeping for days with his wife, too scared to come back to his house after the trauma.

In Gaziantep, despite not being as heavily impacted as elsewhere in the region, humanity amid the tragedy seems to have taken over.

At Café Sempre, in Ordu Caddesi, the owner offers blankets and free meals all day.

“I immediately came to my bar as soon as I saw all those people in the street looking for a safe ground-floor place,” says Ferdi Haydargil, 44, as he serves some hot cups of tea. “It’s our moral duty to offer anything we can to support each other.”