Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada “stands ready to provide assistance” in the aftermath of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria, but no formal relief efforts were announced by the government Monday.
The death toll as a result of the earthquake rose to more than 3,400 people by Monday evening with thousands injured as crews continued to search for people trapped under collapsed buildings. Authorities fear the number of people killed will keep climbing.
The earthquake, which began in the early morning hours, was centred in Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras near the city of Nurdagi. It was followed by several aftershocks as well as a 7.5-magnitude quake hours later, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Thousands of buildings collapsed, extending from the cities of Aleppo and Hama in Syria to Diyarbakir in Turkey, more than 300 kilometres away. In Turkey, authorities say more than 5,600 buildings were destroyed and upward of 7,800 people have been rescued.
Official plans for Canada’s response haven’t been determined as the government continues to closely monitor the situation and co-ordinate with Turkish officials, Global Affairs spokeswoman Charlotte MacLeod said in a statement.
Ms. MacLeod said there have yet to be any requests for assistance from Canadians related to the earthquakes. There are currently 7,513 registered Canadians abroad in Turkey as well as 1,394 in Syria.
International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan tweeted that the consulate-general in Istanbul is working to understand how to help those in need.
“Canada stands ready to support those most vulnerable that have been affected by this disaster,” he wrote Monday.
Mohamad Slibi, a 29-year-old architect in Toronto, said his family in Aleppo found their building was shaking in the middle of the night.
“Everything in the apartment was shaking, and a lot of breaking sounds like glass, windows, etc.,” he said Monday afternoon. “Horrible, very horrible.”
Although Mr. Slibi’s relatives are fine now, they are still stressed, he added.
“They’re still scared because aftershocks haven’t stopped the past 24 hours. They keep feeling the aftershocks like every half an hour or an hour,” Mr. Slibi said, adding his family is ready to leave home any time.
The shelters are full, he said. And given the shortage of gas and fuel of those areas, the shelters are also very cold.
Mr. Slibi has sent some money. “But that’s all I can do.”
The Turkish Society of Canada said it is working to co-ordinate a national response with other community associations as well as the consulate-general. Society board member and spokesperson Cagdas Onen said the earthquake has devastated the community, but they are rallying together to provide relief.
The groups are seeking donations of warm winter clothing with cold weather bearing down on the region as well as canned foods, baby food and toiletries.
“Everyone wants to do their part,” he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “If we’re going to help people there, we believe all efforts should be united. That is why we are just co-ordinating and trying to understand where we can help.”
It has also been a fearful time for some Canadians who have been trying to check in on family living in the region, but the earthquake has disrupted internet and phone access.
Mr. Onen said he personally wants the Canadian government to provide resources for rescue efforts, which are being made more difficult by snowy conditions in the region. People are trapped beneath heavy rubble from buildings and Mr. Onen said he believes Canada’s experience in mining and rescue missions could be beneficial.
“Canada’s support is really critical at this point,” he said. “Every second literally counts.”
The region hit by the earthquake sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken. About 18,000 people were killed in similarly powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.
The earthquake also devastated the only remaining region of Syria held by opposition groups in the country’s 12-year civil war. The area is home to more than four million people displaced from other parts of the country. Many buildings that were already weakened from past attacks by government forces collapsed.
The Syrian Canadian Foundation, launched in 2016 to support and empower refugees landing in Canada, posted to social media that it is “saddened and heartbroken” by the earthquake. The group noted that many refugees who fled during the civil war and political unrest lost their temporary housing. The organization is collecting donations to help victims and their families.
Federal NDP MP Heather McPherson called on Mr. Trudeau’s government to immediately provide financial support to the White Helmets, a group supporting those who fled their homes in Syria. The organization has been providing updates on social media, calling for international assistance to respond to the earthquake.
Several other countries have already announced plans to help, including the United States which is sending two 79-member search-and-rescue teams to Turkey. The European Union activated its emergency satellite mapping service to assist first responders.
This video contains footage some viewers may find disturbing. Video from Turkey and Syria showed the impact of the large earthquake that hit the region on Monday. Weakened buildings collapsed as aftershocks continued, with desperate efforts to rescue people trapped under rubble. At least 2,600 people were killed and the toll is expected to rise. THE GLOBE AND MAIL
QUEEN’S PARK REPORTER
The Globe and Mail, February 6, 2023