Turkish-Americans in the Chicago area are hoping to raise at least $50,000 for relief efforts, in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in their homeland.
More than one hundred people died in the eastern city of Ercis, where the quake was centered, with another hundred confirmed dead in Van, about 30 miles away. Over a thousand people were injured, when the powerful quake hit Sunday, and rescue officials feared the casualty tolls would go much higher.
“There is a possibility that we will have a thousand people killed by the devastation of the earthquake,” said Suleyman Turhan, President of the Turkish American Federation of the Midwest. “That’s going to come out by the time the rescue efforts are completed in a couple of days.”
Dramatic rescue pictures were beamed worldwide by Turkish television networks, from a nation which knows the heartbreak of such powerful forces of nature all too well. More than 17,000 died when a quake hit northwestern Turkey, including the city of Istanbul, in 1999.
Rescue teams responding to the weekend quake in Van province worked through a cold night, searching for those who might still be alive in the rubble.
“The thing we don’t know yet is that all those people, much more in rural areas, they haven’t reported back as to the casualties,” said Fatih Yildiz, Turkish consul general in Chicago. “Since it happened in the middle of the day, no one knows where those people were during the earthquake.”
Search teams have expressed hope that some collapsed residential buildings might have been empty, with many residents at work when the tremor hit.
Turkey lies at the intersection of three major fault lines, and quakes are not an unusual occurrence there. Because of that, and especially in the aftermath of the 1999 quake, special precautions have been taken in new construction, and the nation has gone to considerable effort to train rescue teams.
“That’s what we are trying to do nowadays in Turkey,” said Yildiz, the Chicago consul general. “You know, raise awareness about how you cope with the effects of the earthquakes. In fact, how to live with the facts that earthquakes bring to the life of the people in Turkey.”
Indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said some 15,000 tents had been distributed in the earthquake region, and that field kitchens had been set up to feed an estimated 25,000 people.
The tragedy struck during what was to have been a festive time this week, the 88th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish republic.
“We are somewhat being tested in terms of our solidarity and standing together against some odds that nature brings us,” Yildiz said, noting that there has been a tremendous outpouring of support for the earthquake victims from throughout the nation. The government said over 1200 aid workers from over 30 nearby towns, and at least 145 ambulances had joined in the rescue efforts.
Chicagoans wishing to help with the relief efforts can donate through the website of the Turkish American Society of Chicago. The address is www.tascweb.org.