Abdul Saidi, a Syrian immigrant who lives on Bainbridge Island, learned Monday that his childhood best friend and the man’s spouse died after their apartment building collapsed along the Syrian coast — one of roughly 20 buildings that fell in Saidi’s hometown during a powerful earthquake.
Saidi’s brothers, sisters and parents still live in Jableh, where his friend was killed, and had to evacuate their homes after the quake hit in the middle of the night.
“The way that they described the feeling was horrific,” Saidi said. “They felt everything was moving. The whole building was shaking.”
The powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake affected southeast Turkey and northern Syria early Monday, killing more than 3,400 people and destroying homes and other vital infrastructure. Global and national organizations have mobilized in response to the earthquake, fundraising and collecting resources, and several Seattle-area nonprofits have stepped in to help.
The Turkish and Syrian communities are shocked by the immensity of the impact and the loss of life, said Tufan Erdinc, president of the Turkish American Cultural Association of Washington. Many people hadn’t grasped the severity of the earthquake until they tuned into Turkish channels and learned of the staggering death toll, Erdinc said.
“We are devastated,” he said.
While Saidi’s family’s homes were not badly damaged, his relatives have slept in their car due to the earthquake and its aftershocks, contending with heavy rain and bitter cold. His mother, who is in her 80s and has advanced Parkinson’s disease, is bedridden and had to be carried downstairs by her sons.
Saidi said Monday that he’d spent the day too preoccupied to do anything but think of his family, and is calling and messaging them constantly.
“I haven’t been able to function all day,” said Saidi, a 51-year-old cardiologist. “I’ve been calling old, old friends to see if they’re OK. … It’s tough.”
Thousands of people were injured, and hundreds remained trapped under the rubble Monday as rescue workers searched mounds of wreckage, according to The Associated Press. Major aftershocks and new earthquakes continued in the region.
Erdinc’s in-laws live close to the affected zone and felt the impact of the earthquake minimally, he said. They remained safe, opting to stay outside their home throughout the night, he said.
Leaders of the Turkish American association, based in Bellevue, and the Salaam Cultural Museum in Seattle are leading local efforts to aid groups on the ground in Turkey and Syria.
“We are at the end of the rope, distance wise, but we are trying to organize,” Erdinc said.
Leaders from the Bellevue nonprofit are talking with the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the General Consulate in Los Angeles to see how their organization can help, Erdinc said. Meanwhile, they’re coordinating with Turkish Airlines, which agreed to take items from Seattle to Istanbul on one of their direct flights between the two cities, Erdinc said.
The organization is accepting donations of blankets, clothing, sleeping bags and other items, and is collecting monetary donations online.
People interested in donating items should email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com so the organization can point them to collection sites.
“This isn’t going to last only a couple of days,” Erdinc said. “This is going to take at least several weeks to recover from in some ways.”
The Salaam Cultural Museum Medical Missions team will be accepting monetary donations online to help organizations on the ground in Syria, said missions director Rita Zawaideh.
“We can’t get there fast enough — and the roads are closed, and airports are closed, so this is what we can do,” she said.
Syria’s ongoing civil war and unrest are making it difficult for people to get all the resources they need, Zawaideh said.
Dozens of countries have offered Syria resources, but it wasn’t immediately clear if any would go to the devastated rebel-held pocket in the country’s northwest region — an area Zawaideh said the museum’s Medical Missions team is working with domestic groups to aid.
While Zawaideh coordinates her organization’s response, some of her family and friends remain in Syria.
“I’m on the phone with them whenever I can get through on the phone lines,” she said.
Father Thomas Kuruvilla, a priest at the St. George Jacobite Syriac Church in Seattle, said his congregation is also working on fundraising efforts.
Most members of his congregation are Indian American, he said, but his church has ties to churches in Syria. Kuruvilla said many of the churches there have been damaged, and many worshippers have been injured or displaced.
“Some of our people are missing, and we are waiting for information about them,” Kuruvilla said.
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