Emergency relief efforts are underway in Turkey and Syria following a deadly earthquake that has killed more than 4,000 people.
Aid organizations say the next few days are crucial when it comes to rescue operations. One local organization is leading its own emergency response team in Turkey.
Chicagoan Halil Demir says he woke up to a distressed phone call from his sister in Turkey.
“My sister was crying and screaming telling me we are OK, we are OK and that’s how I learned there was an earthquake,” Demir said. “She tells me there’s an earthquake and the building is shaking.”
Demir’s family survived but says that the road to recovery is long as thousands have been left homeless.
“It’s snowing there which makes it more challenging, and due to damage in the main city people are trying to leave and the traffic is tough,” Demir said. “So all these combined obstacles make it an even more serious situation.”
Demir runs the Zakat Foundation of America, a global humanitarian organization operating locally and stationed in Turkey. The earthquake destroyed the building they work from in Turkey.
“We have a tent and I know we have been requested to work with the government entities,” Demir said. “We need urgently water and food. We need hygiene kits and milk for the babies and I know we need blankets because it’s very cold and people are outside.”
Rescue teams have worked around the clock in an effort to save people trapped in the wreckage.
The powerful earthquake registered 7.8 in Turkey and Syria early Monday morning. Devastating aftershocks have also been reported.
Demir is set to fly to Turkey Monday night and says the priority is setting a plan to help as many people as possible. In the coming weeks, the organization is hoping to collect donations from Chicagoans.
“We are hoping that we will open centers where people can drop off blankets, strollers and things that can help,” Demir said. “At this stage, we are only sticking to financial support. We have to look at the logistics of the ground and how we can receive the containers.”
As frantic search efforts continue, Demir says the impact and trauma of such a catastrophe can take years to repair.
“An earthquake is something that is so painful,” Demir said. The worst is that you are so helpless. You know that your family is under this building but there’s not much you can really do and that is even more painful than just knowing that you lost somebody. I ask the Almighty to protect people and give them relief and allow my family to survive, and I hope other families survive too.”