Sacramento-area groups offer ways to help earthquake survivors in Turkey and Syria

Emrah Gurel/AP

Sacramento-area community groups say rescuers right now are focused on searching for survivors buried in earthquake rubble in Turkey and Syria, but relief efforts will need support for months and maybe years to help the region fully recover.

Demet Candas Green, president of the Turkish American Association of California Sacramento Chapter, says Turkish Americans living in the capital region have reached out to her group. They’re frantically seeking information and help with finding missing loved ones.

“A lot of them can’t reach their families there,” Green said Tuesday. “It’s been really hard on a lot of people. It’s just a big mess.”

The magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Monday in southern Turkey and northern Syria, toppling thousands of buildings and killing more than 6,000 people. The World Health Organization estimates 23 million people, 1.4 million of them children, could be exposed to the elements.

Green said not one building was left standing in some areas; 10- to 15-story buildings knocked down that could have people buried. She said organizations in the region are currently in need of experienced search-and-rescue crews to find survivors.

As for those displaced, authorities are working to get them assistance quickly. Green said winter conditions can be brutal for survivors, so there are efforts underway to get tents and container homes shipped to the area as soon as possible.

“There are people struggling to find food or port-a-potties,” Green said. “There are efforts on the way, it’s just going to take a lot of time to get there.”

Turkey’s disaster management agency said on Tuesday that at least 4,500 people had died, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier that more than 22,000 others were injured, the Los Angeles Times reported. The president declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 provinces affected by the earthquake.

In Syria, which has been racked by a 12-year civil war, officials were quoted in state media as saying that 812 people had died since Monday in areas controlled by the government of President Bashar Assad, according to the Times. In opposition-held enclaves of northwest Syria, the White Helmets, a civil defense volunteer group, said the number of dead exceeded 790, adding that it was likely an underestimate.

The earthquake caused buildings to “pancake” to the ground, said Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento Valley/Central California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He said rescuers have found some survivors in the higher level of those buildings, but there are many buried beneath.

“A lot of them are under the rubble,” Elkarra said Tuesday. “Now, it’s a race against time.”

He said the earthquake has “shredded” roads with fissures several feet deep, making it difficult for organizations to help to survivors out in snowy, cold weather.

‘It’s just devastating news,” Elkarra said. “It’s unbelievable.”

He said Sacramento-area residents who want to help relief efforts should consider donating to reputable organizations, such as the Turkish Red Crescent, Islamic Relief USA, the Syrian American Medical Society or the White Helmets.

“It’s such a beautiful sight to see people from every walk of life and background showing solidarity,” Elkarra said. “It’s the beauty of humanity, regardless of faith or ethic culture.”

The Turkish American Association in Sacramento has posted links on its Facebook page for people looking to donate money to relief efforts. Green said these are “trustworthy” organizations that are providing direct assistance in the region.

“Don’t forget about this,” Green said. “This will take months and years to recover.”