Picture the scene. London has been hit by an earthquake. Your brother and sister are dead. Your home nothing more than a pile of rubble strewn with all your wrecked possessions and even though seven weeks have passed since it happened, the stench of decay still lingers.

All in all the temptation to crack must be overwhelming.

This is reality for thousands of people living in parts of North Western Turkey following the massive earthquake that devastated the region on August 17 at 3.02am.

It left over 15,000 dead and more than 100,000 people living in tents nowhere near sturdy enough to provide shelter from the icy winds that will soon blow down across the Black Sea from the Ukraine.

This is the grim environment in which Hugh Sparks, a senior international loss adjuster from Crawford-THG, finds himself many times a year.

He has seen first-hand the effects of a host of major catastrophes: Colombia, Greece, Jamaica, Japan – he even once had a spell adjusting in war-torn Algeria being protected by the Algerian version of the SAS.

Hugh is a cheerful, level-headed character. He has four children, plays football when he can, goes to the gym as often as possible. At 40 he has been an international loss adjuster for seven years, a loss adjuster for a total of 18.

His job is to get insurance payments agreed and sent to companies as quickly as possible, while at the same time making sure that the claims are accurate.

Joining him at a claims meeting in Turkey with a large gas and petroleum company is an eye-opening experience. This particular company has made substantial damage claims yet there are a number of questions to be asked about the way it has carried out repair works.

Normal procedure in cases like this is for the claimant company to present a schedule of works, via the loss adjuster, to the re-insurers for their approval. This company has not done so and there are problems.

Hugh's meeting lasts over five hours. In sweltering heat and a stuffy office, one could be forgiven for feeling listless. Yet Hugh remains alert.

For five hours the missing schedule is discussed – mostly in Turkish. Fifteen areas of work, each broken down into detailed sub-sections, are debated.

Sense of chaos
There is a sense of chaos throughout this meeting for the company has not followed procedures either through panic or lack of procedural knowledge. Eventually the meeting ends. It has been tiring but it is indicative of the circumstances Hugh has to contend with.

On leaving, Ali, an adjuster with Crawford-THG's Turkish associate company Alesta, points at a senior executive on the other side of the office whose family still lives in a tent.

External assistance
This chaotic situation highlights the indiscriminate nature of the earthquake which attacks all classes. It brings Hugh on to his favourite hobby horse – the need for outside workers to manage companies following catastrophes.

As we return to the hotel in Istanbul he says: "You always tell companies to get people in from outside, because local management are pre-occupied with other problems, so running a factory is way down on their list of priorities. "

"Outside teams are totally focused. They work 12-16 hours a day. Without exception it works. Every time. From a cultural point of view, people from outside understand if we come across as aggressive. We are not being aggressive, but you get these cultural mis-understandings."

The two companies we visit the next day bring this point home. Both companies are international plcs with global reputations. They could be looking at claims worth $30 million (£18m) each. Unlike the petrochemical company, they drafted in international teams, had works approved and money is due from the insurers very soon.

Their workers will be able to get back to work, continue to earn salaries, and hopefully afford to move into warmer accommodation before winter sets in.

When we get back to the hotel, the cracked factories, destroyed housing and Red Crescent tents surrounding the industrial towns of Izmit and Derince seem a lifetime away.

The hotel has every modern luxury. Shoe polish and scales in the bathroom, fluffy bathrobes and comfortable slippers for the morning. There is a big swimming pool and a well-equipped gym. Swanky bars abound.

"You do feel very guilty sometimes," says Hugh. "But the job we do can be incredibly stressful. Things are winding down now, but when we first got out here we were working 18-hour days every day for anything up to two weeks at a time."

Initial work involved damage evaluations, lengthy visits to all major clients and calculating what resources would be needed from Crawford-THG's worldwide operation. There is also the issue of working out who the major reinsurers carrying exposures are.

"You've got to have something to go back to. That can be a gym, or a bar for to chat to the guys, but if you had nothing, you would crack in no time," he says.

The other thing that must be remembered about Hugh's job is that he spends a lot of his time going into high-risk areas.

Pack of syringes
Everywhere he goes, Hugh takes a pack of syringes. He has even contemplated taking a pint of his own blood to avoid having a risky transfusion in a catastrophe zone.

The second night we were there, an earthquake measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale shook our hotel. The week before I arrived, there was an after-tremor that shook stocks off pallets in a factory and could have killed him. Every time he goes away, he enters factories that have been severely damaged and are very unsafe.

Who knows – perhaps this will be the time that one of them crumbles. A nice hotel and comfortable slippers are really very scant reward for a job that requires such nerve.

It would worry me. Does it worry him? "Nah," he replies with incredulous laughter. "You just get on with it. You don't even think about it."