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Turkish Albertans hope friends and relatives will be rescued following devastating earthquake

Click to play video: 'Calgarians rally to support relief earthquake efforts in Turkey and Syria'
Calgarians rally to support relief earthquake efforts in Turkey and Syria
WATCH: Canadians are worried about loved ones back in their homeland, where deadly earthquakes struck Monday. Both Syrian and Turkish Calgarians are still waiting to hear whether their family members have survived. As Jill Croteau reports, Calgary's Turkish community is collaborating on how to help – Feb 6, 2023

Albertans with ties to Turkey and other countries like Syria which have been affected by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake are holding onto hope more people will be rescued in the aftermath.

Haslet Pekdemir, treasurer of the Turkish Canadian Cultural Association of Calgary, said many of their members have been trying to reach family members to see if they’re OK.

“I hope there is still hope for them, but time is very limited. The first 24 to 48 hours is so important,” said Pekdemir.

The official death toll is around 3,400 as of Monday afternoon, but it could end up being in the tens of thousands. Hundreds are believed to still be trapped beneath the rubble of buildings in Turkey and Syria that collapsed as the ground beneath them shook.

“So far, there’s a lot of questions as to the number of dead and those still living,” Serhan Tarkan, president of the association, said.

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Tarkan said members in Calgary have so far identified two loved ones who died in the earthquake, but said it could be days before the full magnitude of the tragedy is known.

Click to play video: 'Powerful earthquake rocks Turkey and Syria, killing thousands'
Powerful earthquake rocks Turkey and Syria, killing thousands

The countries were struck by not just one, but two major earthquakes on Monday.

The U.S. Geological Survey measured the first quake at 7.8 magnitude. At least 20 aftershocks followed, authorities said, as well as another quake that measured 7.5.

While it’s normal for a major earthquake to trigger smaller aftershocks in its wake, it’s a “different process” for a separate fault to be directly triggered after a major seismic event, according to Christie Rowe, an associate professor at McGill University’s department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and a Canada Research Chair in Earthquake Geology.

“The second really large earthquake was probably triggered by the first one, but it came nine hours later on a different fault,” Rowe said.

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The transcontinental nation stradding Asia and Europe is no stranger to catastrophic earthquakes — it sits on top of major fault lines and endured a similarly powerful earthquake in Istanbul in 1999, when 18,000 people were killed.

“Last earthquake, I remember a girl was pulled out four days after the fact,” Tarkan said. “So we’re hoping that a lot more people are rescued and that the crews will get to them.”

Sim Senol, president of the Turkish Canadian Society, said the earthquake from 24 years ago still haunts many people.

“It is absolute trauma for the whole country right now,” said Senol.

“This generation of people in Turkey, the major earthquake of 1999 is still in people’s minds.”

Senol said the season makes the tragedy even more difficult to respond to.

“It’s bleak, plus it’s the middle of winter. They’re in the middle of a storm right now,” she said.

Senol explained the 1999 earthquake happened in the middle of summer so there wasn’t the added threat of hypothermia amid rescue efforts.

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The quake was felt as far away as Egypt, Cyprus and Lebanon.

Sam Tabet, owner of Taste of Lebanon resturant on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, said his wife is in Lebanon. He has called her 20 times with no answer.

“It’s a disaster, what’s happening there right now,” he said.

According to The Associated Press, the quake jolted residents in Lebanon from beds, shaking buildings for about 40 seconds.

Many residents of Beirut left their homes and took to the streets or drove in their cars away from buildings, terrorized by memories of the 2020 port explosion that wrecked a large portion of the city.

Tabet said he has been glued to the television, trying to find out more about the disaster by watching Lebanese news sources.

“When you have a family member away from you in a dangerous zone, you don’t have that comfort,” he said.

“What can we do? Hope everything will be fine and hopefully she gets a chance to call.”

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Those with ties to the area have leapt into action, ready to send help to those impacted.

Senol said the Turkish Canadian Society has been inundated with phone calls, asking what can be done to help.

“The most helpful thing at this point for us in Alberta would probably be cash donations, and I’m trying to make sure we can maximize that,” she said, adding the society is looking for a partner that can issue tax receipts for those who donate.

Because of the 1999 earthquake, most Albertans with ties to the region know what the survivors need, said Pekdemir.

“They need everything. They are now out of their houses, they are on the streets,” she said.

Those looking to donate to survivors can contact the Turkish Canadian Society.

Corus Entertainment, the parent company of Global News, is supporting the Humanitarian Coalition in its appeal to help victims of the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Donations can be made online

— With files from Ghaith Alsayed and Suzan Fraser, The Associated Press and Rachel Gilmore, Global News

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