Nova Scotia

Nova Scotians with ties to Turkey and Syria ask for aid in earthquake response

Survivors from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey’s Gaziantep province on Monday are still being pulled from the rubble as the death count climbs in Turkey and war-torn Syria.

More than 7,000 dead following Monday’s earthquake, aftershocks in Turkey and Syria

A man stands on a pile of snow-covered debris, holding a jacket, while a woman is sitting in front of him and holding a child.
People sit by a collapsed building in Malatya, Turkey, on Tuesday. Search teams and aid are pouring into Turkey and Syria as rescuers working in freezing temperatures dig through the remains of buildings flattened by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake early Monday. (Emrah Gurel/The Associated Press)

Nova Scotians with ties to Turkey and Syria are asking for the government's help after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey's southeastern Gaziantep province, killing more than 7,000 people and leaving thousands injured in Turkey and war-torn Syria.

With the death toll and injuries climbing, both countries are calling for help.

In Nova Scotia, Turkish and Syrian communities are responding to that plea.

"We are definitely devastated," said Burcu Kaptan, president of the Turkish Society of Nova Scotia. 

"Even though we are living in the age of information, it was hard to find out what was going on," she said.

Kaptan, who is originally from Ankara, Turkey's capital, and now lives in Halifax, says the society is using regional connections and networks in Turkey to get information from the area. That way, they can figure out how to help from Nova Scotia. 

The group started a campaign to raise funds for relief efforts, and they are asking for the Canadian government to support the search and rescue efforts.

Help needed

Ergul Kocabas is part of the society. He runs the MediTerra Turkish Grocery store in Lower Sackville.

A man wearing a cap stands at a checkout counter at a grocery store.
Ergul Kocabas runs the MediTerra Turkish grocery store in Lower Sackville. (Colleen Jones)

He says the earthquake and powerful aftershocks reminded him of a devastating quake in 1999 that killed more than 17,000 people in Turkey. 

Back then, he and his university friends helped in the rescue for two weeks. 

"You cannot imagine how hard it is… There's nothing to do, this is nature. There's no warning, you cannot do anything," he said.

He said watching this time from Nova Scotia, he felt totally helpless as millions of people are displaced from their homes. 

"People need help. They don't have power, they don't have clean water, they don't have food," he said. 

Syria affected too

In Syria, at least 812 people were killed and 1,832 were injured, according to the Syrian Health Ministry.

With phone lines down, Omar Al-Isso, chairman of Kurdish Community of Nova Scotia, was relieved to reach his brother in northeastern Syria and hear that he was OK. 

A man wearing a felt cap stands in front of a store front outside.
Omar Al-Isso is chairman of Kurdish Community of Nova Scotia. He was able to reach his brother in northern Syria and find out he is safe. (Colleen Jones)

But he hopes people do not forget about Syria in the relief efforts, a country that was already in crisis before the earthquake.

"It was horrible because Syria already is destroyed completely," he said. 

Nabil Mohammad had similar concerns. He is from Syria and moved to Halifax in October 2022. 

"The health system in northern Syria is bad," he said. "The majority of hospitals, like five or six years ago, were destroyed under the war," he told CBC's Information Morning guest host Bob Murphy. 

"So how the health system will help people in this kind of problem, this kind of disaster, I don't know."

Mohammad says his family felt the earthquake in his hometown of Al Qadmus in western Syria, about 300 kilometres from the epicentre. 

His family spent the night outside their houses in the cold weather, and his uncle's house was destroyed.

A man in a red jacket walks over fallen stones in a city street.
Cape Bretoner Zach McQuaid walks through fallen rubble in Şanliurfa, Turkey, about 150 kilometres east of the quake's epicentre. (Submitted by Zach McQuaid)

'We were fine'

Worried family members were also calling Zach McQuaid, a Cape Bretoner who is on a year-long backpacking trip in the area. 

He happened to be in Şanliurfa, Turkey — about 150 kilometres east of the epicentre — when the earthquake hit. 

He and his friends woke around 4:19 a.m. as pieces of stone fell from the ceiling of his hotel room and the room shook.

"We were fine, just a little shaken up," he said.

An aftershock hit while they were at a grocery store the next morning, and at that point McQuaid said they decided to leave the region. 

The group went to the bus station which McQuaid said was "a little chaotic." 

"There were no buses that we could find, so we grabbed a taxi 150 kilometres east," he said. 

"We didn't really know what to do … the idea was to move away from the epicentre."

McQuaid says he was lucky: Two days prior, he was touring hard-hit Gaziantep. 

The World Health Organization said the number of fatalities are expected to climb as rescue teams continue to find people under fallen buildings and structures. 

With files from Colleen Jones, Carsten Knox and Information Morning Halifax