Winnipeg community with family in Turkey, Syria hope help arrives soon for areas hit by earthquake

People in Winnipeg with family ties to Turkey and Syria are frantic to reach loved ones after a deadly earthquake rocked parts of both countries.

For Songul Bozat-Emre, the worst has already happened: news of the deaths of her niece and nephew in the southeastern Turkish city of Adiyaman. Several of her other relatives were also injured after their house collapsed in the powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake. 

“They lost their homes. They have no home right now. And they’re in a desperate situation,” Bozat-Emre said through tears in her Winnipeg home on Monday.

Her brother-in-law, Nametullah Emre, survived an earthquake that hit the country in 2011. He said it’s hard to describe what the experience was like.

“Suddenly, everything is gone and you’re in a different mood,” he said.

Four people sit on a couch and look off camera.
Allan Emre, his wife Songul Bozat-Emre, his brother Nametullah Emre and another relative watch their TV as the latest news unfolds on the earthquake that hit parts of Turkey. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

“The first thing you do [is] try to escape, to get out. You don’t think about what you’re going to take with you, what did you left behind you. So it’s a very hard situation.”

For now, the family is spending their time watching as the latest new unfolds on TV.

More than 3,400 dead

Many in the region were jolted out of sleep by the pre-dawn quake and rushed outside in the rain and snow to escape falling debris, while those who were trapped cried for help.

Throughout the day, major aftershocks rattled the region, including a jolt almost as powerful as the initial quake.

So far, the earthquake and its aftershocks have killed more than 3,400 people and injured thousands more as buildings were toppled, trapping residents under piles of rubble.

Bozat-Emre’s husband, Allan Emre, said there are many areas in the regions hit by the earthquake that search crews haven’t reached yet. That means early estimates of the death toll are likely significant undercounts of the true number.

A loss of electricity has also made it difficult to keep in touch with family in the affected areas, he said. At one point, they lost communication with relatives for 13 hours.

“It is [a] very challenging situation at the moment as the weather is not helping. The roads are affected, the airports are affected,” Emre said.

“They’ve got a very limited time to reach those people.”

‘Disaster on top of another disaster’

He said he hopes more help arrives soon to the region, which is now facing “disaster on top of another disaster.”

The earthquake hit an area that has been shaped on both sides of the border by more than a decade of civil war in Syria. 

On the Syrian side, the area affected is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces.

Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of refugees from that conflict.

Muhammad Khoja now lives in Winnipeg after fleeing Syria for Turkey, then Canada, when that war broke out.

A man and woman hold two children.
Muhammad Khoja now lives in Winnipeg after fleeing Syria for Turkey when Syria’s civil war broke out. But he still has family living in Turkey. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

But his family — including his parents and siblings — are still in Turkey. And while everyone survived the earthquake, it’s still not clear whether their homes will remain intact.

Khoja said he hopes to see humanitarian aid arrive in the region soon to help people like his family.

“They don’t know what we can do. And they ask us to help them, but what we can do? We are here and they are there,” he said.

Help promised

Canada, the U.S., Russia, Germany and Israel were among the many nations offering to send help on Monday.

Mohamad Jumaily, whose family is split between two northwestern regions in Syria, said he’s hearing from relatives how many of the affected areas don’t have the equipment or people with the expertise they need to dig out from the rubble.

And many have been left with nothing.

A man looks serious.
Mohamad Jumaily’s family lives in northwestern Syria. He says his relatives tell him many of the areas hit by the earthquake don’t have the equipment or people with the expertise they need to dig out from the rubble. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

“After the earthquake now there [are] many people there [who] don’t have anything. They don’t know where to live because all their house was destroyed,” he said.

For Bozat-Emre, all there is to do for now is pray — for her family’s safety, and for the Canadian government to come through on its promise to send assistance.

“Right now, there’s chaos there. Nobody’s providing any help and they are on their own,” she said.

“I want to be proud of Canadians during this process — that they provide help to help our families.”

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