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'An Emergency Within an Emergency': How to Help Syria and Turkey Earthquake Relief Efforts

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Severely damaged buildings that are painted pink and red with debris in the street.
Buildings destroyed in Monday's earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, on Feb. 7, 2023. (Erhan Demirtas/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Updated 3:30 p.m. Wednesday

Rescue teams near the Turkish and Syrian border are continuing to search for people trapped under rubble after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the region early Monday. At least 12,000 people had been confirmed dead as of Wednesday and many are still missing.

Bay Area residents and community groups are now rallying to help relief efforts from afar.

“This is an emergency within an emergency. In Syria, people were already suffering as it is with a severely weakened infrastructure, depleted health care system, shortage of resources like water, electricity, you name it,” said Maya Fallaha, a Syrian American who lives in the Bay Area. “Now with the earthquake, it’s an additional blow for thousands of civilians.”

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Fallaha received a text while she was at the gym from her father, who was visiting the south of Turkey, about the earthquake while he was being evacuated.

“He texted me saying ‘big earthquake, very strong,’” Fallaha told KQED. “Immediately I’m concerned about my aunt who lives in the North of Syria and extended family and relatives. My initial reaction was just shock and trying to account for all my friends and family living in that area.”

Buildings collapsed in both countries, scattering streets with heavy piles of concrete and debris.

The death toll could rise to over 20,000, according to Catherine Smallwood, the World Health Organization’s senior emergency officer for Europe.

Berkeley Turkish School founder Başak Altan felt a mix of frustration and sadness when she heard about the catastrophic quake, which comes amid an extreme winter and freezing temperatures for the affected region.

“All of my family is in Turkey. Everyone knows someone who has been impacted, who is missing or died, friends or family they haven’t heard from. There are uncounted people in Turkey, refugees and immigrants,” she said.

Altan lives in Berkeley, and remembers waking up nearly 23 years ago when another major earthquake flattened buildings near Istanbul and killed an estimated 18,000 people.

“It was devastating to wake up to this again. I don’t think a lot has changed in the last two decades in Turkey in terms of making the necessary changes for safety in an earthquake. We have an economy that is dependent on turning and popping out tall buildings, big dense units in earthquake-prone zones, despite the calls from earthquake scientists, geological experts. No one is listening,” said Altan. “People can’t be taken to the hospital because the hospital is in shambles. When you have this much devastation on top of devastation, it’s impossible to fathom how you help these poor souls that are there.”

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Ghaidaa Mousabacha was born and raised in Syria, and now works as a behavioral counselor in the Bay Area.

She stressed that one of the most powerful things people in the U.S. can do to help is donate to organizations that are providing support on the ground to save lives.

“Keep them in your thoughts and prayers, but also make sure you speak to your government representatives about sending immediate rescue and aid,” Mousabacha said. “There is a lot of need for personnel and equipment and immediate shelter for the people without homes, especially in difficult winter conditions.”

Multiple sources who spoke to KQED shared concerns over relief funds going through the Syrian and Turkish governments, and recommended that people who wish to donate do so through a vetted humanitarian aid group.

Groups raising funds to provide direct aid

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) Foundation is providing on-the-ground medical aid in Northwest Syria at hospitals and other medical facilities. The agency reported that four of their medical clinics were damaged by the earthquake and three of those are no longer operational due to such severe damage.

Bridge to Turkiye Fund is raising money to provide food, water and shelter to displaced families in southern Turkey as well as emotional support and well-being for children.

Syria Relief and Development (SRD) has deployed around 20 ambulances to respond to injuries and is raising $75,000 to continue providing medical care, gas for ambulances, shelter and food for survivors and responders.

Syrian Forum USA provides education, job training and other economic services focused on women and young people. The organization is raising funds to provide blankets, winter clothing, shelter and heating to earthquake survivors.

MedGlobal, an international emergency response nonprofit, provides medical support for Syrians displaced by war and violence, and is working with families affected by the earthquake.

Rahma WorldWide, based in Michigan, provides health services and food to communities in Syria and is fundraising to provide supplies to families in the earthquake disaster zone.

Swasia Charity Foundation is a U.S.-based humanitarian aid nonprofit raising funds for food baskets, cooked meals, blankets, heating supplies, medical consumables and other basic supplies in Syria.

The White Helmets are leading search-and-rescue efforts in many areas devastated by the earthquake. Around 300 volunteers are working to find unaccounted-for loved ones and maneuver equipment necessary to uncover rubble.

NuDay Syria is partnering with the White Helmets to distribute food baskets, winter gear, emergency shelter, water and other basic necessities to those who have been displaced by the earthquake.

Mercy Without Limits provides orphan care, education opportunities and basic needs such as water, food and shelter to women and children in Syria. The nonprofit is fundraising to provide food packages, water, blankets and shelter to families affected by the earthquake.

This story includes reporting from KQED’s Christopher Alam.
This story has been updated.

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