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Turkey & Syria Earthquake Relief

Turkey and Syria experienced multiple earthquakes on February 6th and then again on February 20th, which resulted in varying degrees of devastation in over ten large cities, as well as numerous smaller towns and villages. Whole towns and villages were completely destroyed! Syrian refugees were among those hardest hit by the devastating twin earthquakes. As I was jolted out of my bed during the intense shaking of the 7.8 earthquake on that fateful morning of February 6th, I paused for a brief moment to feel the intensity of the quake and decide, Do I try to hide for cover by huddling next to our large refrigerator, which would hopefully somehow protect me? Or do I run for the door and rush into the streets since I live on the ground floor of the apartment?  I safely made it out into the cold, rainy night where I heard the screams of people trying to quickly get out of their buildings. Soon, the streets were flooded with terrified apartment dwellers.

A few hours later, I met up with my teammates at the charity where I work. We decided to load our cars with blankets, food, and other items, and we headed to Iskenderun, a port city on the eastern Mediterranean, which we heard was badly damaged. While loading the car, at 1:24 p.m. the second earthquake hit. It was magnitude 7.4 and it literally knocked us off our feet. We knew this was major, and we knew we had to go right then to help the victims of these quakes.

Our team loaded our vehicles with blankets and food and we headed to Iskenderun. We were not prepared for what we were about to see; dark smoke hung over Iskenderun from the massive fire burning at the port. Damaged, toppled, and pancaked buildings were everywhere! Some people were dazed, walking around like zombies, stupefied. The streets that you could maneuver on sometimes took an hour to cross, as those who were fortunate to survive the earthquake and who had a car were fleeing the city. We saw men and elderly women with some meager belongings in shopping carts or little trolleys trying to find a safe place.

It was a heartbreaking experience, as we witnessed survivors, many barefoot and in sleeping clothes, some with babies and children, huddled around bonfires of wreckage to stay warm in the bitter cold of winter. They were very grateful for the help we brought them.

Over the next two days, we rented a small truck and loaded it with blankets, sleeping mats, bread, cheese, olives, and water for the earthquake victims of Antakya. On our return trip, we transported families from Antakya, who had been rendered homeless in the aftermath of the earthquakes, to put them up in housing in our city. Housing was difficult to find, as over 20 buildings fell in our city, and many of the large apartment buildings were declared unsafe.

We arrived in Antakya the day after the quake with a small truckload of blankets and food. We parked our car not far from the ruins of the Renaissance luxury apartments. This complex had consisted of 250 apartments, and all six buildings had turned into a hell. A piece of paradise in downtown Antakya had become a mass grave in a matter of seconds. Relatives and friends were waiting in the rain outside; they were weeping as they were identifying the dead. At a nearby building, a man was putting the dead bodies of his children and others into the back seat of his car.

After the distribution of the goods, we decided to sleep in our car in Antakya as we felt the roads were not safe enough to return at night. We parked by a group of soldiers who were keeping warm around a fire. It is difficult to sleep in a freezing car with death and destruction all around.

In less fortunate areas of the city, there were no rescuers yet. Apartment buildings, one after another, were pancaked by the massive earthquakes. You could hear the pleas for help and the moans of the injured from the rubble below, but there were no rescue teams to come and help them. In the following days, the voices would go silent. We would weep. In spite of the pain and hurt, we could not nurse our wounds too long; there were more people to take care of, and we continued to deliver aid.  I am thankful that Jesus has given me peace enough to keep on going, strength to reach out and a team to work with. We will go on, trying to answer these heart cries.