Atlanta United’s Saba Lobjanidze recounts earthquake experience in Turkey

Atlanta United forward Saba Lobjanidze #9 scores a goal during the match against D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington,  on Wednesday September 20, 2023. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Saba Lobjanidze #9 scores a goal during the match against D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington, on Wednesday September 20, 2023. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

The noise came at a volume and with a fury that made Saba Lobjanidze wake up and wonder if the world was imploding.

It was just past 4 a.m.

Lobjandize ran out his front door and into the street as the noise and then the vibrations overwhelmed him.

It was a 7.8-magnitude earthquake whose epicenter hit near Antakya, where Lobjandize lived and played for Hatayspor in Turkey. It was one of the worst earthquakes in the country’s history. Its duration, 59 seconds where Lobjanidze lived but longer in other places, and the date, Feb. 6, 2023, Lobjanidze will never forget.

“You saw it; you realize you’re so weak,” he said Thursday. “I was praying and crying. What can you do?”

Lobjanidze was lucky. His team had played a game the night before. He hung out with friends until 2 a.m. before he went home. He was by himself and thankful that none of his family was visiting.

The two-story house he was renting five minutes from downtown was damaged but didn’t collapse. Lobjanidze lost some clothes and jewelry, but he expressed indifference to the destruction of the material things.

Others lost so much more. One of his Hatayspor teammates, Christian Atsu, was in a nearby building that collapsed. He was one of the more than 55,000 people who died.

The next day Lobjanidze drove where he could.

“I saw the people who were trying to find their kids, and it was really hard to see that,” he said.

Lobjandize and some of his teammates formed the equivalent of a foundation to share portions of their salaries to try to help those affected and to help Hatayspor eventually play again. Hatayspor and Gaziantep, another club that was affected, withdrew from what remained of the Turkish first division’s season. Both clubs returned and are playing this season.

Lobjanidze said it was too hard to stay in Turkey. He went back to family in his native country of Georgia. He said he had trouble sleeping for a month and couldn’t be in bed by himself. Lobjanidze found it hard to be home, too. He decided to go on loan to another club in Turkey’s first division, Karagumruk. Lobjandize needed the routines of training and matches.

“Football helped me,” he said.

Lobjanidze was sold to Atlanta United that summer. He said he hopes to one day visit Antakya, located on the southeastern coast of Turkey near Syria.

The experience changed him.

Lobjanidze said he now focuses more on the present.

“What are you doing now? Just enjoy because we never know what is happening in the next minute, or next day or next year,” he said.

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 vs. New England, 7:30 p.m.

March 17 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

March 23 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

March 31 vs. Chicago, 3:30 p.m., Fox

April 6 at NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

April 14 vs. Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m., Fox

April 20 vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

April 27 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

May 4 vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.

May 11 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

May 15 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

May 18 at Nashville, 1:30 p.m.

May 25 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m.

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., Fox

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.