NURDAGI, Turkey — Near the center of this small town in southern Turkey, a father and his boys carried doors and windows they had salvaged from an abandoned apartment building to a waiting truck, glass crunching under their feet. The street, once lined with multistory buildings, was now defined by flat rubble lots.
At the end of the road, a functioning gas station still stood. Eren Yaka, an 18-year-old attendant there, had just taken part in an election for the first time, giving his vote to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We are with the reis,” he said, referring to Erdogan with an Ottoman-era moniker, meaning leader or chief, that the president had coined for himself.
The first of the twin earthquakes that rocked southern Turkey on Feb. 6 struck less than 15 miles from Nurdagi, leaving most of the town in ruins. A two-decade building boom here, emblematic of Erdogan’s nationwide focus on development, more than doubled its population to around 25,000. One in six people in Nurdagi died in the earthquakes. More than 50,000 were killed across the region, according to official figures; many observers believe the true toll is much higher.
The earthquakes came at a fraught time for Erdogan, who was already bracing for his toughest election in two decades. Polls suggested his grip on power was slipping, mainly owing to a faltering economy and soaring inflation. As the scale of the disaster became clear, and his government struggled to respond, many expected there would be a political price to pay. But on May 14, across the quake-shattered south — a traditional stronghold for Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) — voters stood firm in their support for him.