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‘There’s no safe space’: Mass. residents rush to help loved ones caught in devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria

Emergency team members searched for people in a destroyed building in Adana, Turkey, on Tuesday.Francisco Seco/Associated Press

When the news of a devastating earthquake hitting Turkey and Syria reached Massachusetts on Monday, locals with friends and family in the region were thrown into a nightmare, frantically texting and making phone calls to ensure their loved ones were safe.

More than 7,000 people were killed, as of Tuesday afternoon, after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday, followed by a series of aftershocks, one of them reaching a magnitude of 7.5.

The search for survivors continued Tuesday after the earthquake destroyed thousands of buildings before dawn and residents ran outside into the cold weather, while others were trapped in the falling debris, according to the Associated Press.


In Massachusetts, local community members worked to help those affected, at times struggling to contact relatives or send money for support.

“All my friends had to grab their documentation and any valuables they have,” said Dima Basha, who is from Aleppo, Syria, and now lives in Newton. “They are in their cars because there’s no safe space, and they have no food or clothes for the rest of the week.”

She said her friends were forced outside, while it was snowing in Aleppo, because either their home was destroyed or they were afraid that the earthquake’s aftershocks would trap them if they returned back home.

The earthquake’s impact stretched from Syria’s Aleppo and Hama to Turkey’s Diyarbakir.

Esat Gok, who manages a Facebook group for the Turkish community in Boston, said that while his family is safe, he had friends in Boston who still hadn’t heard back from their families.

“They cannot get a hold of them here in Boston,” Gok said. “We were getting videos and pictures from all around the eastern part of Turkey, so it was a bit of a rough night.”


Gok said Turkish embassies and consulates in the United States are working to provide aid to individuals in Turkey by collecting cash donations and cold-weather supplies, such as blankets, jackets, or heat warmers.

Embassy officials are also working with Turkish Airlines to transport donated aid items.

Meanwhile, those with loved ones in Syria struggled with how to help. They feared that because civil war has already devastated social and economic institutions within the country for 12 years, the country doesn’t have the ability nor capacity to provide relief to citizens.

“Syria was already on a verge of collapse,” Basha said. “The international community should come in and help.”

She said those hit by the earthquake in Syria need both individual help such as donations and organized aid from countries and nonprofit organizations.

Marwa Alnaal of Westborough, who has relatives in Damascus, said because of sanctions placed on the country, it’s difficult to send money directly to impacted individuals.

“We can’t send money without the federal government looking at us and asking us what we’re doing,” Alnaal said. “It is such an unfortunate reality.”

There are a series of economic sanctions and restrictions placed on Syria by various countries, including the United States, as a result of the Syrian civil war. These restrictions have also limited Syrian residents’ access to basic needs within the country, such as medicine and food, Alnaal said.

“Just two years ago, we had to send a suitcase full of medication to pharmacies in Syria,” Alnaal said. “Because of the sanctions, they didn’t have basic things like aspirin.”


She said the only way to provide help was to provide donations or contribute to large nonprofit organizations such as Islamic Relief.

Omar Salem, Canton resident and board director of Karam Foundation, a nonprofit organization helping Syrian refugees in Turkey, United States, and Jordan, said the organization’s main priority is to help those in areas affected by the earthquake find shelter.

“Although there are search and rescue operations, the main issue is that there is no shelter,” Salem said. “So a lot of people are just sitting around fires outside their homes.”

Salem said the Karam Foundation has a community center in Reyhanli, a Turkish town near Syria’s border, and has started a campaign to help provide food and shelter to those nearby.

“I’m hoping we can reach many areas regardless of their political affiliation,” Salem said.

But because of the war, there are frequent electricity outages, making it difficult for the organization to reach its team members located in the region.

Salem said the civil war in Syria makes it difficult to provide aid for impacted individuals as it is “not just a burden on Turkey, but all neighboring countries.”

He said he hopes the international community will come together to find a solution for those struggling to receive aid. In the meantime, Syrians overseas and rallying to help.

“I do think Syrians do stick together,” Salem said. “Regardless of religion, sects, or political affiliation.”


Ashley Soebroto can be reached at ashley.soebroto@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ashsoebroto.