It was a sleepless night for Emine Bozkurt as she desperately awaited news from the southern Turkish province of Hatay, her family members trapped in the rubble of their collapsed apartment building.
The 35-year-old from Atwood in north-west Melbourne was finally able to confirm on Tuesday that her aunty and cousin had escaped unharmed, but was yet to hear from other loved ones.
Smoke billows from the port in Iskenderun, Turkey, on Tuesday.Credit:Burak Kara/Getty Images
“The roads are blocked. The airport is closed. Most of their phones are switched off, it was a mess [trying to get hold of them],” she said.
Bozkurt was able to eventually get in contact with her aunt via Facebook Messenger. One of her friends, whose parents live in the north of Hatay, is trying to find flights to the closest city.
Turkey and Syria are in the grip of an unfolding humanitarian crisis after some of the biggest earthquakes to hit the region in almost a century killed thousands and flattened neighbourhoods. The World Health Organisation has warned that the death toll could end up surpassing 20,000.
On Monday, a pre-dawn earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 hit the Turkish city of Gaziantep and a second – measured at 7.6 – struck nearby just nine hours later, according to the country’s disaster response management agency.
Sevnur Karaman, front, brings donations to the container behind Sultan Butcher in Campbellfield on Tuesday, with some help from volunteer Konur Alp Ozal.Credit:Eddie Jim
Melbourne’s Turkish community on Tuesday rallied around those affected by the earthquake in their homeland.
After hearing the news, Necmi Kul, who owns Sultan Butcher in Campbellfield, and his wife Necmiye, called IHH, a Turkish NGO they had worked with to support the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
“We asked them if they need help from Australia, they said yes, they want [it] urgently,” Necmi said.
Less than 12 hours later, a shipping container was set up behind the butcher shop and members of the community began dropping off donations.
Bea Tercan with some of the donations collected on Tuesday for the earthquake victims in Turkey.Credit:Eddie Jim
The container was already a quarter full by late afternoon on Tuesday, thanks to call-outs on social media and word of mouth. It’s mostly been Turkish people who have come to drop off supplies, but some donations have been made by the Arabic and Greek community, volunteers said.
Bea Tercan, a former business associate who Necmi called to help organise the donations, will be at the butchery from 9am to 9pm for the rest of the week to get the containers freighted to Turkey. They are aiming to get them there by next Monday at the latest.
“This is everyone putting their hand on their heart. These people are doing everything they can,” Tercan said.
On Wednesday, two trucks are due to arrive from Sydney, along with another container, in anticipation of the large number of donations expected over the coming days.
Turkish community leader Kazim Ates says his brother-in-law, who lives in Meadow Heights, lost five family members in the southern Turkish city of Osmaniye.
Only hours before the disaster struck, the family had gathered for a wedding. “He’s in absolute disbelief … there are still missing family members,” he said.
“We’re remote [in Australia], we’re far away and then when you watch something live and then get the confirmation [that someone has died], you ask yourself, ‘Am I awake or am I sleeping? When will I wake up from this?’. That’s where the family is at the moment.
“But it will sink in, as people start to bury loved ones. The disbelief will be over and reality will hit.”
A congregation with special remote funeral prayers will be held at Melbourne’s Meadow Heights Mosque at 1pm on Friday, with a vigil planned for that night at Broadmeadows Central, near the library.
Ates said Turkey was in the depths of winter and the freezing temperatures and short daylight hours were hampering search and excavation efforts in Osmaniye.
“Everyone is praying for those who have lost their lives and those who have been injured. We’re in a reality shock at the moment, it hasn’t sunk in at all.”
Nihal Iscel’s 63-year-old cousin was killed in Gaziantep. She said her cousin’s wife and children were still missing.
“Most of our family are safe and well in their cars. They can’t get into their houses because they are unsafe,” the Western Australian resident said. “It’s been snowing, raining, they have had hail, everything – and it’s minus two or three degrees.”
Baran Sogut, a Kurdish Youth Society coach from Sydney, said the village his relatives lived in – Kahramanmaras – had been destroyed, leaving survivors sleeping in their cars despite the freezing weather.
“People are stuck underneath their houses. There’s no support, no help. We just got news that some of my mom’s aunties and cousins have passed away because they’ve been underneath all that cement and dirt for so long. They couldn’t survive.”
He and his family have been trying to reach out to several missing relatives since they first heard of the earthquake, but poor phone signals had impeded their efforts.
“We could only talk to them for 30 or 40 seconds, then the signal would cut off,” he said. “We’re trying to deal with it, but it’s hard. There’s not much we can do … We’re just relying on people’s help and volunteer work.”
To help those in need, Sogut said Kurdish communities from around the world, including Melbourne and Sydney, are holding a fundraising charity on Saturday to raise money for the rescue and relief efforts.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the government was considering lighting landmarks in honour of the earthquake victims and survivors in Turkey and Syria.
“[Turkish Labor MP] Natalie Suleyman has already contacted me this morning and is very keen that we provide whatever support we can to those parts of Turkey and Syria,” Andrews said.
“We know we’ve got a big and proud Turkish community and indeed a growing Syrian community here who make a big contribution to our multiculturalism and have done for a very long time. So anything we can do to support them, we absolutely will. [Lighting landmarks] is maybe something we may do.”
Ismet Tastan, co-chair of the NSW Democratic Kurdish Community Centre, said he was concerned about the level of support available for the Kurdish community that live in the affected areas.
“It’s really been a disaster, especially for the Kurdish community in Australia, because of the time difference and all of those things – it makes a really big impact on communities far away.”
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