The past week has been difficult for Fatiah Gumustepe and his wife Filiz Meydan. Watching the devastation that is happening in their home country and talking with their tight-knit group of Turkish friends in New Jersey, they are coping with unimaginable loss. One of their friends lost 20 members of his immediate family to the earthquakes that began over a week ago.
More than 35,000 are reported dead as of Monday with more aftershocks rolling through Turkey and Syria. The first deadly 7.8 earthquake hit the Kahramanmaras area of Turkey on Feb. 6. Blood-curdling screams rang throughout the southwest areas of Turkey and adjacent Syria as people fought to be freed underneath the rubble. Now, silence has fallen over the region as the efforts turn to humanitarian aid for survivors.
That means Gumustepe and the family’s friends have been collecting new blankets and warm clothes to be air-dropped to Turkey to help those facing unimaginable aftermath. The Turkish community in New Jersey has been gathering supplies to be trucked to the Turkish embassy in Manhattan, across the river, for air lifts.
A community of Turkish Americans
With more than 100,000 Turks in the New Jersey and New York City area, it is home to the largest enclave of Turkish Americans, said Adam Bulent Ozdemir, executive director of Peace Islands Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to Turkish in America and interfaith connections.
“We are focused on the survivors, see if there’s any people waiting for help,” Ozdemir said.
Rescuers are trying to move people into tents and building temporary shelters, Ozdemir said. The weather is cold in quake-ravaged western Turkey, dipping below freezing at night.
Many members of the Peace Islands Institute lost loved ones, Ozdemir said. Some are still waiting to hear from family members. Some members have traveled to Turkey to try to find relatives. The airports still open close to the southern areas are Antalya and Adana. The roads are troublesome to get through, Ozdemir said.
The community has been collecting blankets, but Ozdemir emphasized that money is the best way to support relief efforts now. Peace Islands has been raising funds for EmbraceRelief.org. More than $1 million has been raised by the New Jersey Turkish American community so far to support relief efforts, he said.
The hardest areas hit include Hatay, Marash and Adiyaman. Gumustepe and his friends have taken a local approach to aid, concentrating on getting help to Hatay. Gumustepe is from Izmir and his wife is from Istanbul, far enough away from the epicenter. But in an immigrant community, everyone helps each other out.
The humanitarian efforts continue as do prayers and vigils, Ozdemir said. Many Turkish Americans have been gathering through faith-based sessions online to offer solace.
“We are waiting to hear, waiting, for, until everything is done,” Ozdemir said. “No one will be relaxing until then.”
Mary Chao is a New York City-based Specialty Reporter at Scripps News. Email Mary. Chao@Scripps.com.