Tzu Chi Readies for Disaster Relief in Turkey

National Headquarters  |  February 27, 2023
The search and rescue operations continue, but sad news breaks the hearts of family members, and Tzu Chi volunteers assessing the disaster immediately step forward to comfort them. Photo/Courtesy of DA.AI News

Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Jiali Liu & Adriana DiBenedetto 

On February 6, 2023, a major 7.8 magnitude earthquake brought heavy damage to Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, Turkey. The sudden disaster collapsed beloved homes, buildings, and cherished historical sites. Then, on the evening of February 20, a 6.4 magnitude quake struck Hatay, causing yet more destruction to the province, and adding to this already tragic moment.

According to reports from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), 42,310 people have lost their lives, and 108,368 people have been injured. A reported 173,000 buildings in 11 provinces collapsed or are heavily damaged. After several days of disaster assessment, Tzu Chi aims to hold distributions for more than 33,000 households in the hardest-hit areas of Hatay, Gaziantep, and Kilis. Each household will receive a cash card to help purchase daily necessities and alleviate survivors’ most urgent needs. This weekend, volunteers will first arrive in Gaziantep to distribute warm clothing, thick eco-blankets, and cash relief to 3,000 affected households.

The February 20 quake worsens previous damage to a cherished spiritual home in the community. Photo/Courtesy of DA.AI News

The consecutive disasters dealt a significant blow to all, and the rescue teams carrying out search and rescue operations have been tireless in their efforts. Earthquake survivors waited for news of their relatives, but many of these hopes were tragically dashed. Having collected essential relief information in Antakya, Tzu Chi’s disaster survey team arrived on the scene to offer comfort.

The Turkish government established communal tented areas for survivors to take shelter. Yet, they could not protect against the frigid weather, with many children catching colds successively. Local Médecins du monde (MdM), or Doctors of the World, professionals in Turkey rushed to the tented areas to provide free health consultations.

A tented area in Antakya offers shelter for disaster survivors, but plummetting temperatures at night keep survivors awake. Photo/Courtesy of DA.AI News

In the city of Antakya, many people’s belongings were buried amidst the rubble, including crucial winter supplies. Apart from the heightened fear of another earthquake, plummeting temperatures at night kept survivors awake, and not everyone had a blanket.

The survivors wash their faces with bottled water outdoors. Photo/Courtesy of DA.AI News
The children keep warm by the stove, but at night, the tent is as cold as ice. Photo/Courtesy of DA.AI News

“It has been more than two weeks since the earthquake. In this tent area in Antakya, the survivors have enough water and toilets. But the most difficult thing to adapt to is still the big temperature difference between day and night,” shared Guoxin Lin, a reporter from the Tzu Chi disaster survey team. 

Darwiche’s family had been staying in a tent alongside two other families. They didn’t mind the crowded living environment, they couldn’t bear the low temperatures. “It’s very cold, especially in the early morning, but the stove can only be placed outside the tent, and the inside of the tent is as cold as an ice palace,” explained Mr. Darwiche.

An earthquake survivor, Aya, was deeply anxious when her child caught a cold, and there was no way to access treatment locally. What’s more, “There are only a few blankets,” she said. “The children are very cold at night. They are sick, but I don’t know where to look to get medicine.”

In the current state of emergency, disaster survivors can only count upon the assistance of international medical institutions, like the dedicated doctors and nurses from Médecins du monde, who brought their expertise as well as vital medications.

Tzu Chi volunteers Ruyi Zhou and Guangzhong Hu witness life’s impermanence and are overwhelmed with emotion. Photo/Courtesy of DA.AI News
After hearing news of the earthquake, rescue volunteer Muhyiddin drives his excavator to the disaster relief site to help. Photo/Courtesy of DA.AI News

Witnessing the suffering brought forth by the earthquake, volunteers’ hearts were overwhelmed with emotion. Upon seeing a father’s mourning, volunteer Ruyi Zhou expressed tearfully that “I didn’t expect something I would see on a TV screen to appear in front of me like this… I was thinking, on this land, we are a group of people just like them; we live on this land just like them. When they are sad, we are sad with them.”

Amidst the disaster area, a rescue volunteer named Muhyiddin had spotted a Qur’an in the rubble. “The Qur’an is the only thing that Allah has left for us. We cannot just let it stay outside,” he told volunteers. 

As soon as Muhyiddin heard that the earthquake had hit Hatay hard, he drove his excavator to the disaster relief site. He has not left for 15 days and has rescued five people. “I heard that something happened to Muslim brothers here, so I came immediately. Thank you, [Tzu Chi], for coming to help. We hope that such things will not happen again.”

The city of Antakya has been completely destroyed, and it is impossible to safely live in it at this time. Survivors are currently living in tents, and the question of how to live in the future has growing importance, so we came here to understand their needs.

The road to healing and reconstruction is long, but it’s a journey made easier with someone who cares at your side. When disasters strike, Tzu Chi volunteers strive to be among the first to arrive and the last to leave.

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