Ontario man worries for family in Turkey after devastating quake

Seyfi Tomar was at his home north of Toronto when he learned that a powerful earthquake had hit the village in Turkey where his parents live.

He immediately called their home, where his father answered the landline.

Tomar said he was shocked to find his parents, who are in their 90s, were still inside the house even as aftershocks were still being felt – his father said they had panicked and didn’t know what to do.

“I told him to leave,” Tomar said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I got angry at them, why was he answering the landline?”

Thanks to security cameras he and his siblings had set up outside their parents’ home, Tomar said he was able to see his parents fleeing their residence after his call.

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Now, even as he’s relieved his parents are alive, Tomar said he’s worried about their ability to secure basics such as food, water and ongoing shelter.

“They are safe,” he said. “They don’t have proper heating, they don’t have proper food, but they survived.”

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake, followed by several aftershocks, ravaged parts of southeastern Turkey and neighbouring Syria, killing more than 11,000 people and destroying thousands of buildings. The death toll is expected to rise even further.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes, and temporary shelters such as mosques, schools and sports stadiums are reaching capacity. Aid agencies say cold temperatures could complicate relief efforts.

Tomar said his parents, who are Canadian citizens, had moved back to Turkey during the pandemic. He is now working on getting them to a safer region of the country.

“My goal is to bring them out of the earthquake area,” he said. “I have an office and house in the west side of Turkey. I want to see if I can bring them to another house in a safer area.”

Complicating that effort, however, is the fact that Tomar can no longer easily reach his parents.

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They have a cellphone, but he hasn’t been able to connect with them through it. Internet service in the earthquake zones has largely been down, he said, but acquaintances have been sending sporadic updates on his parents’ condition when they’re able to.

“Every day is difficult for them because I don’t know if they are going to have heat today, if they are going to have food tomorrow,” he said.

“I am very concerned. I don’t know. I wish there was internet. I wish I could reach them.”

People search for their belongings at a collapsed building in Kahramanmaras, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. An Ontario man says his Canadian parents are stuck in a village after the deadly earthquakes killed over 11,000 southeast of Turkey and parts of neighboring Syria. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Hussein Malla

Tomar also said that some of his distant cousins and others he knew have been killed in the quake.

Save the Children said around 23 million people, many of whom are children, have been affected by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. It said there was urgent need for humanitarian assistance to distribute among survivors.

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“The window to get shelter, medical supplies, water and food to the worst affected areas in order to save lives is rapidly closing,” the charity organization said in a statement.

Global Affairs Canada said Wednesday that it has received a “limited number of requests” for assistance from Canadians related to the earthquake.

It said 7,507 Canadians are currently registered as being in Turkey and 1,390 are registered in Syria.

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