Turks in US mobilise in large numbers to collect aid for quake victims

  • Baba Umar
  • 9 Feb 2023

As aid continues to pour into the Turkish embassy in Washington, DC, volunteers and Turkish officials express gratitude for public generosity.

"Our calls for aid have brought an overwhelming response from everyone here in America," a senior Turkish official says. ( Baba Umar/ TRT World )

As cars and trucks packed with blankets and diapers come to a stop outside the embassy gate, Ata Han Kasab Chopur and his friend Alp Selman rush to unload the cargo. Names and addresses of the donors are promptly noted on a sheet of paper by another volunteer. Then comes the most time-consuming task of separating various items into boxes destined for earthquake victims in Türkiye and Syria. 

It's a busy day for everyone inside and outside the Turkish embassy in Washington, DC.

It has remained so since Monday when two powerful back-to-back earthquakes hit Türkiye, killing thousands of people and flattening countless buildings. The catastrophe has been described by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as "Disaster of the Century."

As the heartbreaking visuals emerged on social media platforms, the Turkish diaspora was quick to converge on foreign embassies around the world to organise relief. 

"Our relatives and friends are still under the rubble. The desperation is killing us from inside," Chopur, a student of Bay Atlantic University, told TRT World , describing the extent of destruction in Türkiye's southern Hatay province.

"From here [in US], we can only pray for them and help collect aid."

The disaster, which also struck Syria, has traumatised Turkish citizens and officials living in the US. But hope and determination to reach out to the affected and possible survivors has overtaken their grief.

"We are all united in this collective pain," said Selman, who also studies at the same university in the US capital. He told TRT World  he has not heard from some of his friends and relatives in Gaziantep province — one of the hardest-hit provinces in southern Türkiye.

He said they could be under the rubble of razed buildings, waiting to be rescued or perhaps already dead from a load of mangled steel and concrete.

"There is no one here whose friend, relative or acquaintance has not been affected by the quake. There are dozens of volunteers here and everyone has the same story."

READ MORE: Türkiye teenager who drank 'urine to survive' is rescued after 94 hours

Ata Han Kasab Chopur (R) and his friend Alp Selman have been volunteering since the calls for aid were made by the Turkish embassy.()

'Overwhelming response'

Apart from the financial aid, Turkish officials in the US have urged contributors to bring winter clothes, boots, blankets, sleeping bags, flashlights, power banks, tents, beds, canned food, baby formula, diapers, women's hygiene products, and over-the-counter medications for flu, cold and painkillers.

"Our calls for aid have brought an overwhelming response from everyone here in America," a senior Turkish official told TRT World.

"In just one day we dispatched 250 huge boxes to Türkiye through the Turkish Airlines."

There has also been an outpouring of support in other cities of the US as well. Turkish consulates in New York, Miami, Houston, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles are also collecting relief for quake victims. Many fundraising campaigns have also been launched to help the victims. 

READ MORE: Teary father celebrates daughter's rescue by Türkiye miners

Officials have urged contributors to bring over-the-counter medications for flu, cold and pain killers.()

Monday's quakes were the biggest to jolt Türkiye since 1939, when 33,000 people died in eastern Erzincan province. In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake claimed more than 17,000 lives.

The region was already wracked by more than 10 years of civil war in Syria. Millions have been uprooted within Syria itself, and many have sought refuge in Türkiye.

The United States has said it is committed to assisting in the recovery "in any way we can."

"As rescuers attempt to save those still trapped in the wreckage and families who've lost their homes seek refuge, the United States is committed to providing immediate, life-saving humanitarian assistance on both sides of the border to help communities recover from this disaster," said USAID, an independent agency of the US federal government. 

It has announced $85 million in urgent humanitarian assistance to Türkiye and Syria. 

The US disaster assistance teams have already reached Türkiye along with a dozen rescue dogs, and 170,000 pounds of modern equipment such as machines to cut through concrete and steel.

The Americans bring with them vast experience of working in similar situations in Japan, Nepal, and Haiti.

On Tuesday, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US remained "focused" on aid and relief efforts. "We are determined to do all that we can to help those affected by these earthquakes in the days, weeks, and months ahead."

The White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan visited the Turkish embassy on Wednesday and signed the book of condolences, offering "heartfelt condolences" and "steadfast" American support. 

Outside the embassy, meanwhile, more aid-carrying vehicles converge, and the entire operation gets repeated — the volunteers quickly remove the aid from the vehicles, a separate team take over the sorting part, and a lone volunteer records the names and the addresses of the contributors. 

"Over 1,000 people have contributed so far," a senior Turkish official told TRT World, "and it's been only two days." 

READ MORE: Palestinian family that fled Gaza war 'wiped out' in Türkiye earthquakes

Volunteers segregate winter clothes, boots, blankets, sleeping bags, flashlights, power banks, tents, beds, canned food inside the Turkish embassy.()