Toronto resident Mercan Kismetli was putting her kids to sleep on Sunday night when a massive earthquake struck her hometown in Turkey.
After seeing the news on TV that a 7.8-magnitude earthquake had ripped through Turkey and neighbouring Syria, she frantically started making calls to her relatives in the tiny town of Pazarcik.
Kismetli, 30, said it’s a miracle that most of her loved ones — grandparents, aunts, uncles and their kids — are even alive, but they have “nothing left.”
“They were able to get up and run out with nothing,” the Turkish-Canadian woman said.
“All their house(s) (are) right now garbage and they are outside.”
Her mom’s cousin and husband died, while their son got trapped under the house.
The southern town of Pazarcik, which has a population of roughly 35,000, is one of the worst-affected areas hit by the catastrophic quake and a series of aftershocks. It was close to the epicentre, Gaziantep.
It has been three days since the quake hit the region. Rescue teams from around the world are hard at work in both Turkey and Syria trying to pull out any survivors from under the rubble. The death toll on Thursday surpassed 19,000 and keeps climbing.
With thousands now homeless, aid is pouring in. Millions of dollars have been pledged by countries, including Canada, which has committed to sending $10 million.
Kismetli says her family had to wait for three days without any food or water before help finally arrived in Pazarcik.
Her cousin told her they are staying in their cars to stay warm, but there’s no heating because the battery ran out. Communication is also scarce as they have no electricity to charge their phones.
“They have no shelter, they have nothing, they have no food, they have no heat, so I’m just concerned that they can stay alive at this point.”
Their suffering is eating up Kismetli, who says she can’t do much sitting in her Toronto home other than send money or give moral support.
“I can’t drink water because I know maybe they don’t have it,” she said tearfully. “I feel bad living in this house right now because they don’t have a house.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that the federal government will match donations Canadians make to the Red Cross, up to $10 million. Ottawa has also deployed a disaster assessment team to Turkey to determine how Canada can contribute to earthquake relief efforts.
“A lot of Canadians have their origins or family members in that region — I think particularly of all the Syrian refugees who’ve come to Canada over the past years to build a life who must be so worried about loved ones and families back home,” Trudeau said walking into a caucus meeting in Ottawa on Wednesday.
“We’re going to be there to help.”
Kismetli, who moved to Canada at the age of nine with her parents and siblings, wants the government to help bring her other relatives here.
“We want Canada to help us. We want them to come here because they have nothing left.”
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Thursday Canada may fast-track applications from people in the earthquake zones of Turkey and Syria.
Kismetli visited Pazarcik last summer and was looking forward to going again this year.
With much of the town now destroyed from the earthquake, rebuilding could take years.
“I don’t think we will be able to go to Pazarcik this summer,” said Kismetli.
Another Toronto woman said seven members of her family were killed in Syria as a result of the earthquake.
Aya Hammoud came to Canada as a refugee in 2017.
She told the Canadian Press her grandfather, his wife, her four cousins and their mother died when the quake destroyed their apartment building in the Syrian city of Harem, near the country’s border with Turkey.
— with files from Global News’ Rachel Gilmore and The Canadian Press.
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.