Turks and Syrians in US watch in horror after earthquake hits homelands

Diaspora rushes to raise money and reach loved ones

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Follow the latest on the earthquake in Turkey

Members of America's large Turkish and Syrian communities are trying desperately to learn news of loved ones who may have been affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which has killed more than 5,000 people.

In Dayton, Ohio, Eldar Muradov, the president of Osman Gazi Mosque, woke up on Monday to learn that the devastating quake had toppled buildings across central and southern Turkey.

“I heard the news this morning, so we have set up a GoFundMe appeal. This is all we can do,” Mr Muradov told The National.

Within a day of opening the fundraising site, more than $85,000 in donations had poured in.

“We’ll send the money to Kizilay [the Turkish Red Crescent] to help with reconstruction and humanitarian assistance,” Mr Muradov said.

“You know, it’s winter so people need blankets, food and shelter. And of course, most importantly, find people that are still under the rubble and hopefully are still alive.”

Dozens of cities across the Midwest are home to Turkish and Syrian immigrants who contribute significantly to medical, logistics and food services industries, and others.

Turkey has always been a helping hand to people in need, and now it needs urgent help
Betel Yuruk, New York-based Turkish journalist

In recent years, refugees fleeing the war in Syria have helped to establish vibrant communities in places such as Dearborn, Michigan, and Columbus, Ohio.

Betul Yuruk, a Turkish journalist in New York, said the earthquake was one of the worst disasters in Turkish history, unlike anything since the 1999 Izmit earthquake that killed some 18,000 people.

“Turkish people are racing against time and hypothermia to save thousands of its people in freezing temperatures,” she told The National.

“Turkey has always been a helping hand to people in need and now it needs urgent help.”

Hundreds of buildings were destroyed in Monday's earthquake, with many people feared trapped under the rubble.

The quake and scores of aftershocks, one of which was almost as potent as the original earthquake, was felt across the region in Lebanon, Cyprus and Iraq, and as far away as Greenland.

The epicentre was just north of Turkey's border city of Gaziantep, in the province of Kahramanmaras, but eight provinces have been affected. The ripples ran across the border into north-west Syria.

Ayman Al Chihabi, a Syrian American in Aleppo, told The National that the quake was “intense”.

“It lasted for about 90 seconds. Many informal settlements collapsed on the eastern part of the city, many lives lost and hundreds of casualties,” Mr Al Chihabi said.

“The entire city is still in panic, people in the streets fearing the expected aftershocks.”

Halil Demir, Executive Director of the Zakat Foundation of America, arrived in Turkey on Tuesday to assess the situation on the ground.

“We plan on distributing emergency relief kits, hygiene kits, blankets, warm meals and cash stipends. Mr Demir will first tend to his family members,” said Amina Demir, the foundation's chief operating officer.

Ms Demir told The National that she hoped the international community provides significant help to Turkey, a country that has offered shelter to millions of refugees from Syria in recent years.

Sarah Naji, a Syrian-American business owner in Philadelphia who travels to Turkey frequently to buy products, said her family in Damascus were safe.

“My family group chat immediately started buzzing. We got news that everyone in our family was safe but our hearts were still broken for our people,” Ms Naji told The National.

“Syria has suffered so much loss and destruction over the last 10-plus years. They don’t deserve more pain.”

For Ms Naji, who said she had not been able to return to Syria since 2010 because of the war, the earthquake compounded a sense of “helplessness” over deteriorating conditions in her homeland.

Her family has long worked with the Syrian American Medical Society, which sends medical missions to the country, and she has helped to lead fundraising and clothing donations appeals.

Ms Naji, who frequently uses her social media platforms to draw attention to the Syrian cause, urges others to continue sharing news about the earthquake.

“I don’t want people to continue on with their days and forget about this tragedy, I want them to speak up and if they’re able to help, I want them to do so.”

Lina Attar, an Aleppo native who now lives in Chicago, has spent the last 12 hours desperately trying to reach family in Syria and colleagues across the affected areas of Turkey.

Ms Attar runs the Karam Foundation, a non-profit that helps to lift up young Syrian refugees in Turkey and the US.

The organisation has a base in Hatay province, near the quake's epicentre.

Ms Attar's team in Turkey is for the most part safe, but it has been a challenging night.

“We still have one person that we are checking on for her safety,” she said.

“The communications in Turkey right now is very spotty, the internet is very spotty, as well as the phone communications.”

While relieved that her team is for the most part safe, she fears the long-term effects the earthquake may have on the staff, which comprises Syrian refugees who have already endured more than a decade of violence and instability back home, only to find themselves confronted with another life-altering tragedy.

“I’m just thinking about the traumatic effects of this on our students who have been through so much trauma, witnessing violence, experiencing displacement, not feeling belonging and all of the discrimination that they faced in their journeys,” Ms Attar said.

“And now to actually go through a night like last night, and reliving all of their past trauma, there's a lot of long-term work to be done.”

The Karam Foundation’s centre in Hatay survived the earthquake with only minimal damage and has been opened up to the community.

Updated: February 07, 2023, 5:43 PM