Staff members and students from a Cork City school have avoided disaster as their travel destination in Turkey was hit by a devastating earthquake.
A group of eight from Coláiste Éamann Rís, Deerpark, was due to travel to a partner school in Malatya as part of an Erasmus programme and had been in Istanbul when the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck.
More than 2,300 people have been killed after the earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria. Hundreds were still believed to be trapped under rubble, and the toll was expected to rise as rescue workers searched mounds of wreckage in cities and towns across the area.
The Cork City students stopped in Istanbul and had been due to travel to Malatya on Monday.
In an update, the school said: "Our staff and students in Turkey are all fine — an earthquake has struck their destination of Malayta, thankfully, they had stopped in Istanbul, and had not reached their destination school yet.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost their lives and homes."
The school added that its partner school, Şehit Gökhan Ertan Vocational School, said: "This place has officially disappeared. Many people have died the number is increasing constantly"
Coláiste Éamann Rís principal Aaron Wolfe told thethat it was only luck that they were not there as initial plans to visit Malatya on Sunday fell through. The original flight options proved unsuitable, leaving too long of a layover in between flights, leading the school to choose the option of flying out a day later.
The group of eight includes Mr Wolfe, deputy principal Edel Farrell and Erasmus co-ordinator Sean Buckley, alongside five third-year students.
“Thank God we were not there," he said.
“We were stunned. Had we got there the day earlier, it would have been horrendous. It’s very sad.”
Hearing the news of devastation this morning, the teachers made the students aware and ensured they contacted their parents in advance to put them at ease. As Turkey is three hours ahead, many parents were not aware of what had happened and were alerted in time.
Through the Erasmus programme, each school would spend a week in opposite countries, a partnership that has been secured until 2027. A host of schools were to visit Turkey this week, with German and French schools due to leave a day later. They cancelled their trips altogether.
“We were already here when things happened. We looked into flying home but it was cheaper to stay until our initial flight home which is next week," said Mr Wolfe.
The principal spoke of "haggling" for a hotel room to house the eight of them for the next week, a cost that was unaccounted for but will be made back through “plenty of bake sales”.
Their partner school accommodates 1,000 pupils and one pupil suffered a concussion from the aftershocks. Mr Wolfe said the families there are not allowed to remain in their homes due to the severe shockwaves running through the city.
Turkey has declared a national emergency, launching a rigorous search and rescue mission where thousands have been found injured.
The Irish embassy in Turkey is urging anybody affected by the earthquake to call its out-of-hours mobile. Embassy staff have also posted their condolences over those who have died.
“Our hearts are with the Turkish people following the awful earthquake this morning,” they tweeted.
“We especially wish to offer our condolences to all those who have lost loved ones and wish all those injured a speedy recovery.”
As Turkey lies on a major fault line, they are no stranger to the chaos created by powerful earthquakes.
In 1999, a disastrous earthquake that hit northwest Turkey ended up claiming the lives of 18,000 civilians.