Manitobans with loved ones overseas are gutted by the news and heartbreaking scenes in areas of Syria and Turkey devastated by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which struck in the early hours of Sunday morning local time.
Muhammad Khoja is in shock, trying to connect with family and friends uprooted by collapsing buildings in the cities of Kahramanmaraş and Osmaniye in southeastern Turkey.
“We don’t sleep because the earthquake started at 4:30 a.m. Turkish time, around 8:30 evening (Sunday).”
Khoja, a Syrian refugee living in Winnipeg, had initially fled to Turkey with his wife – their families and friends are now coping with another disaster.
His brother told him the scenes are worse than what they witnessed while escaping Syria more than 10 years ago.
“It’s stronger than that,” Khoja said.
His loved ones aren’t hurt, but they’re staying outside in parks and in the streets until the aftershocks settle, unsure whether their homes are still standing, Khoja said.
Syrian and Turkish officials say at least 3,400 people are dead, and they fear the death toll will continue to climb.
Allan Emre’s family is also among those navigating the aftermath in Adana, Turkey.
“Nobody’s in the buildings. Everybody’s sheltering in the cars, and unfortunately, Turkey doesn’t get much snow, but right now we have snow,” Emre, a Kurdish-Turkish-Canadian living in Winnipeg, told Global News.
Many left their homes wearing light clothing and slippers, without blankets or winter coats, he said.
“The conditions are very dire,” Khoja said. “It’s extremely cold. It’s rainy. It’s snowy.”
Emre finally got through to his loved ones after hours of trying and learned his mother-in-law survived being trapped in her home.
“It took them about eight hours to break the door and rescue her and her son. Unfortunately, some other family members are not as lucky.”
Emre said his wife’s nephew and his family all died under the rubble.
“It’s devastating. It’s hard,” he said. “(To) not be able to help and not be able to even travel to where they are is extremely difficult.”
Emre doesn’t know how people will manage with little fuel, power and water, especially in places outside major centers, which may not get help right away, he said.
The region also saw millions of refugees settle there after fleeing conflict in Syria.
“Another disaster on top of a disaster,” Emre said. “It doesn’t look good.”
Khoja also worries refugee applications to Canada, including his wife’s mother’s, will be delayed even further. They’ve been waiting about four years due to setbacks brought on by the pandemic.
Khoja said he hopes help comes swiftly as Syria, Turkey and the international community work to rebuild what’s been lost.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada stands ready to provide assistance.
— with files from The Canadian Press