A massive 7.8 pre-dawn earthquake rocked the south-east region of Turkey yesterday, toppling homes and buildings and taking over 4,000 lives across both Turkey and parts of Syria. Provinces in and around the epicentre of Gaziantep were almost completely devastated. Luckily, Trinidadian nationals living there seemed to have been living away from the disaster zone, according to checks done by the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs.
Reports have suggested that in addition to the rising death toll, the number of injured and missing people is likely to also keep climbing in the coming days.
In Istanbul, over 1,000 kilometres away from where the tremors were felt, Trinidad and Tobago national Fiona Ali and her husband of nearly eight years, Mohammed Al Hashemi, remained glued to their television set and hand-held devices for updates on the earthquake.
During a Zoom interview with Guardian Media yesterday, Al Hashemi gave an account of the carnage that had ensued following the earthquake.
He said, “The earthquake happened down south along one of the tectonic plates next to the Syrian border and 10 cities are located along that plate. It happened around 4.17 am and ever since, all those cities have been experiencing aftershocks, and the aftershocks have been continuing.
“It is really really bad, some of the cities are actually wiped out, that is how bad the situation is, it something I never experienced before personally and I’m sure no one in Trinidad experience that before.”
Al Hashemi said prior to yesterday’s earthquake, the country had been grappling with severe weather conditions and that rescuers were now forced to comb through mounds of rubble in rain and freezing temperatures.
“Turkey has been experiencing harsh weather throughout the country, snow and rain, even here in Istanbul it is bad. The government on Friday announced that today (Monday) is a day off for schools and some of the public sector workers. Looking at the current weather condition, you can imagine the frustration that is going on down south with the weather and snow. The government, after announcing a state of emergency, they asked the international community for support and assistance. The army has been deployed to the affected cities and there are also dedicating emergency numbers to individuals stuck and help evacuate them and get them back to safety.”
For both Al Hashemi and Ali, the magnitude of the catastrophe was unimaginable.
“It is a huge loss of life, it is terrible. We are hearing all these stories and with social media, you’re living the situation , the biggest earthquake that happened in Turkey was in 1999 in the city of Izmit, that demolished the whole city, that was the biggest earthquake that happened to Turkey back then but this one is 6 times bigger than that,” Al Hashemi.
The couple maintained, however, that despite the bleak outlook, they were not prepared to turn their backs on the country.
“We’re not thinking about moving back to Trinidad at the moment. For us, Turkey has been very welcoming. Those situations like this, emergency situations, it’s something we need to stand together with the Turkish people and help them and support them.”
Also contacted yesterday, Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne said this country stood in solidarity with the people of Turkey and Syria and that there were no reports of nationals being injured or killed as a result of the earthquake.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she was saddened by the devastating loss of lives in Turkey and Syria following the earthquakes that struck both countries.
“Many Trinidadians and Tobagonians have an ancestral bond with both Syria and Turkey and may have relatives affected by this tragedy. I wish to express my love, sympathy and support to our Turkish and Syrian communities in this time of crisis. My deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones in this disaster. I hope that the survivors are found quickly and wish them a speedy recovery,” Persad-Bissessar said in a release.