Turkey earthquake: Chicago groups gather aid for victims in Turkey, Syria

Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Chicago groups gather aid for Turkey, Syria earthquake victims
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Aid groups in the Chicago area are gathering resources to help the victims of the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria over the weekend.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Relatives and aid groups in the Chicago area are gathering resources to help the victims of the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria over the weekend.

The earthquake hit while most of those impacted were still sleeping, and the scope of devastation in the border region between Turkey and Syria is just starting to become clear.

RELATED: Over 3,400 dead after powerful earthquake rocks Turkey and Syria

In Chicago, loved ones worry and wait.

"A friend's brother-in-law, they are trying to communicate with him. They learned his building was totally destroyed. They are hoping he was saved," said Ryan Uysaler of Embrace Relief Foundation Chicago.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake brought down entire apartment blocks in cities across southern Turkey. Thousands have died.

In Chicago, Kemal Ozer, who serves on the board of trustees for the Turkish American Cultural Alliance, is desperately trying to help his friends who are in the earthquake zone.

"They are right now living in their car and he says, 'I am so lucky we have a car,' and they're trying to use minimum gas. It's also hard to find gas," Ozer said.

The aftershocks are making crucial communication almost impossible.

"I couldn't reach him because the phone system is really going down," Ozer said.

"It is worse than what you can imagine," said Vildan Gorener, president of the Turkish American Cultural Alliance. "We can't do much. It's like a mass murder of nature."

Gorener is visiting family in Istanbul right now. She hasn't slept, and is scrambling together whatever help she can.

"I'm kind of stuck in Istanbul and trying to reach out to people in Chicago, my colleagues and friends, to organize the help that we can," she said.

Across the border in Syria, where 12 years of war have devastated this particular region, the tragedy is compounding an already horrific situation.

READ MORE: Former Chelsea forward Christian Atsu missing after Turkey earthquake

"The head of our team for example, he lives in Idlib City. He sent his family more north, closer to the border because he's not sure that the building he's living in will stay up or collapse," said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, founder and president of MedGlobal.

Sahloul had about 100 people working on the ground in the impacted region even before the earthquake. They are now scrambling to help in any way they can while appealing for cash and medical supply donations.

"We'll be able to coordinate sending these supplies through Airlink that have offered to send these supplies for free. And we have a team in Turkey that can receive them and distribute them," he said.

With so many people still unaccounted for, community leaders at the Turkish American Society of Chicago said they are still trying to determine how many of their members families have been impacted. For now their priority is to raise as much money as possible to support the relief efforts.

"It is mid0winter right now. The weather is very cold. Hypothermia is another problem," Uysaler said. "It is very cold so tents and blankets are going to be the most crucial items they will be needing."

The Turkish American Cultural Alliance here in Chicago is begging for winter supplies- coats and blankets- to send to the region as quickly as possible