Calgar residents grapple with a devastating earthquake that has struck Turkey and Syria

A boy climbs a pile of rubble in northwest Syria after a powerful earthquake struck neighboring Turkey.  (Submitted by Abdulkafi Alhamdo - photo credit)

A boy climbs a pile of rubble in northwest Syria after a powerful earthquake struck neighboring Turkey. (Submitted by Abdulkafi Alhamdo – photo credit)

Abdulsalam Mustafa left his home immediately after the first earthquake.

In recent weeks, the Syrian-born Calgarian has been with his mother and sister in his hometown of Latakia, Syria, visiting his brother, who was unable to flee to Canada with the rest of the family last January.

“We all feel like stress because it’s a painful experience,” Mustafa said. “[We’re] tired because we can’t sleep. We slept about an hour in the last 25 hours.”

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey on Monday morning, followed nine hours later by a 7.5 magnitude tremor, killing thousands.

Mustafa and his family have spent a day and a half on the streets, staying away from their home and little infrastructure in case anything collapses.

Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

And he’s not sure when they’ll go back inside.

“There are people who have returned,” said Mustafa. “But we don’t feel safe enough to go home.”

effects felt worldwide

Several aftershocks followed. After the initial tremor, tremors continued to shake the ground in Turkey and Syria. In communities and cities around the world, those with ties to the two countries are feeling the impact.

“You might think this is happening far, far away from Calgary, but because we now have such a strong connection with so many Syrians here… it hurts a lot as a city, too,” Saima Jamal said.

She is one of the co-founders of the Calgary Immigrant Support Society and has been working with displaced Syrians since arriving in Canada.

Speaking to friends in Syria and across the country’s northern border in Turkey, Jamal says she hears the fear and trauma in their voices.

Emrah Gurel/The Associated Press

Emrah Gurel/The Associated Press

“I have friends from Syria who have told me that they have never experienced anything like this,” Jamal said.

“They are traumatized. They are much more traumatized than even during the war.”

hope and help

At a ground-floor restaurant in Gaziantep, the earthquake’s epicenter, people gathered to share food, water and resources and seek shelter.

Surrounded by children and families, Calgary business owner Abdulfatah Sabouni sees those affected doing what they can to help who he can. He is on a business trip in the country.

“People help each other now … they open restaurants, soccer fields or schools,” Sabouni said.

Khalil Hamra/The Associated Press

Khalil Hamra/The Associated Press

‚ÄúPeople make food to serve [others] as well as.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 13 million of the country’s 85 million people were affected and he declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces.

More than 8,000 people were pulled from the rubble in Turkey and about 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels, authorities said.

Aid efforts in Syria hampered

In Syria, meanwhile, relief efforts have been hampered by the ongoing war and the isolation of the rebel-held region along the border, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces.

Syria is an international pariah under Western sanctions related to the war. Volunteer first responders known as the White Helmets have years of experience rescuing people from buildings destroyed by Syrian and Russian airstrikes in the rebel-held enclave, but they say the earthquake overwhelmed their skills.

Turkey is home to millions of war refugees. The affected area in Syria is divided between a government-controlled area and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, where millions depend on humanitarian aid to survive.

“It was a humanitarian crisis even before the earthquake,” Jamal said. “People don’t have enough to eat, they don’t have kerosene to light their stoves, to heat their houses.”


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