As Turkey and Syria continue to search for survivors and recover in the wake of two devastating earthquakes, the emotional ripple effect is being felt on the other side of the world in British Columbia.
Family and friends in Metro Vancouver have franticly been trying to get in touch with loved ones and make sure they are alright. So far, the earthquakes have claimed the lives of more than 2,600 people and injured thousands more.
Nedal Izzden has been on the phone non-stop since news of the deadly natural disaster reached Canada. The Syrian refugee is a former member of the country’s White Helmets emergency response group and spent the night trying to connect with his former colleagues and help them coordinate their recovery efforts.
“On the ground, they are still under shock about what what’s happened,” he said.
It’s only when he takes a break do the emotions bubble to the surface.
“First thing, I think about my family, because my brothers, my father and my mother, they are living in the south of Turkey,” he says, pausing to push back tears. “The first phone call or a message I received from them, it was at 3 a.m. and they told me, ‘OK, we are all fine. Nothing happening. We are all together now.”
He would later learn a friend and that friend’s son were killed when a building collapsed in a small town close to the principal port city of Latakia.
“Everyone told me they have relatives and they (are) just dead,” Izzden said. “We have someone we know they dead. I have friends and they (are) dead.”
He says it’s hard to be so far away and there is a sense of guilt to be living a relatively normal and safe life.
“Your body is here, but your mind and your emotion, everything is just stuck there,” Izzden said, adding many Syrians who fled the ongoing war settled in the south of Turkey.
Former president of the Turkish Canadian Society (TCS), Yusuf Altintas, has also spent the past day trying to find a way to resources to the affected region before more die from exposure and hunger.
“(The TCS) will probably open a relief fund account that we will probably start collecting donations for that as well,” said Altintas, an engineering teacher at UBC.
As he speaks, one of his students approaches and says she is from Istanbul.
Ceren Ertan describes the moment news of the earthquakes began flooding in.
“It was panic because the news coming from the Turkish side was just like 60 notifications and I didn’t understand what was going down at first,” she said.
“And then the moment I read through, it was so panicking because I was there just at Christmas and it was just learning that everything just falling apart. And I know the people there; I was kind of like shaking, and I’m still kind of shaking.”
Her family is safe but living out of hotels and cars as they wait to return to Istanbul.
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While Izzden knows the tragedy is impacting both nations, he feels the turmoil in Syria only adds to the disaster’s weight.
“If we talk about Syria, the life there is disaster because there is not enough materials, there is not enough for humans to search and rescue the people under under the rubble,” he said, encouraging others to donate to relief efforts.
Natural Resources Canada seismologist John Cassidy says most of Turkey and Syria are in a seismically active region.
He says Africa is slowly drifting north while the Arabian Peninsula is rotating towards Europe, causing a compression of plates deep beneath the surface of the earth.
“Turkey essentially is caught, almost like caught in a … vice grip and so it’s being squeezed,” Cassidy said.
The last 7.8 magnitude earthquake to hit the region was in 1939, he said, making it a fairly rare but catastrophic event. Earthquakes measuring 9.2 and 9.3 were record-setters throughout history in the region.
He says B.C. could and has experienced similar shakes, however some were too far away or deep to cause the same kind of damage.
“There was a 7.8 earthquake, just off the coast of Haida Gwaii back in 2012,” he said. “If we combine the likelihood from all of these types of earthquakes that we know happen here in Southwest British Columbia, in Victoria, the probability is something like a 30 per cent chance of a damaging earthquake in the next 50 years.
“And in Vancouver, it’s about 20 to 25 per cent probability in a 50 year time window. So it’s not insignificant.”
He urges people to have an emergency kit and plan ready and to get more information on the ShakeOut BC website.
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.