Brothers sleeping in car as they search for missing Canadian sister in Turkey

Two brothers have flown to southern Turkey from Canada to search for their missing sister, who hasn't been heard from since earthquakes rocked her city last Monday.

'This is our situation, but this is one of thousands,' Saad Zora says

‘We need to see her’: Brothers fly from Canada to Turkey to find sister

8 months ago
Duration 2:11
Unable to get answers from the Canadian Embassy, brothers Saad and Muthana Zora flew to Turkey to find out what happened to their sister Samar, who they haven’t heard from since earthquakes rocked her city last week.

Two brothers have flown to southern Turkey from Canada to search for their missing sister, who hasn't been heard from since earthquakes rocked her city last Monday.

Samar Zora, 33, is from Halifax. She was living on the ground floor of a five-storey apartment building in Antakya, in Hatay province, conducting research for her PhD in anthropology when the quakes struck. Her brothers, Muthana and Saad, haven't heard from her since.

Dissatisfied with the support they were receiving from the Canadian Embassy, the brothers travelled to the disaster zone to search for her themselves. They plan to stay as long as it takes.

"This is our situation, but this is one of thousands. We are sitting and crying with local Turkish people," Saad said.

WATCH | The desperate search for a Canadian missing in Turkey:

Canadian woman missing in Turkey; brothers fly in to find answers

8 months ago
Duration 3:50
Brothers of Samar Zora, a Canadian woman who was conducting research in Turkey, are desperately trying to find answers after they lost contact with her when an earthquake rocked southeastern Turkey and northeastern Syria on Feb. 6.

"We need to confirm her. We need to see her. We have to have a proper burial for respect of the dead," Muthana added.

The brothers are sleeping in a car and asking anyone they can for help. They flagged down rescue crews from South Korea and Hungary, and have been told it may take a month for heavy equipment to reach Samar's building to move debris.

A man looks at his phone in a street destroyed by an earthquake in Turkey.
Muthana Zora flew to Turkey to help find his missing sister, Samar Zora, who is from Halifax. Here, he stands near the five-storey building where she lived while conducting research for her PhD in Antakya, in Hatay province. (Diego Cupolo)

On Saturday, someone with thermal imaging equipment visited the site and told Muthana where he should dig. Three local men pitched in, but they were forced to stop because it was too dangerous.

The brothers also connected with one of Samar's friends and are searching local hospitals and a cemetery where mass burials are being conducted.

People in Turkey look at a computer screen.
Saad Zora, left, looks at a list of patient names in Mustafa Kemal University Research and Training Hospital in Antakya, Hatay, as part of the search for his sister. (Diego Cupolo)

Turkish justice officials targeting contractors

As the desperate ground search for survivors continues, Turkish authorities are targeting contractors allegedly involved with buildings that collapsed in the powerful Feb. 6 earthquakes that killed more than 33,000 people. Rescuers found more survivors in the rubble on Sunday, including a pregnant woman and two children.

The death toll from the 7.8-magnitude and 7.5-magnitude quakes that struck nine hours apart in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria rose to 33,179 and was certain to increase as search teams find more bodies. As despair bred rage at the agonizingly slow rescue efforts, the focus turned to assigning blame.

Three people stand close together. One man is crying. Another man, wearing an orange helmet, smiles and holds the side of the crying man's head in one hand.
A man reacts next to rescuers in the aftermath of Monday's deadly earthquake, in Hatay, Turkey, on Saturday. A Romanian team rescued a 35-year-old man there this weekend, but the death toll from the quake has surpassed 28,000. (Kemal Aslan/Reuters)

Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said 131 people were under investigation for their alleged responsibility in the construction of buildings that failed to withstand the quakes. While the quakes were powerful, victims, experts and people across Turkey are blaming faulty construction for multiplying the devastation.

Turkey's construction codes meet current earthquake-engineering standards, at least on paper, but they are rarely enforced, explaining why thousands of buildings toppled over or pancaked down onto the people inside.

Among those facing scrutiny were two people arrested in Gaziantep province on suspicion of having cut down columns to make extra room in a building that collapsed, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.

The Justice Ministry said three people were under arrest pending trial, seven were detained and another seven were barred from leaving Turkey.

Authorities at Istanbul Airport on Sunday detained two contractors held responsible for the destruction of several buildings in Adiyaman, the private DHA news agency and other media reported. The pair were reportedly on their way to Georgia.

One of the detained contractors, Yavuz Karakus, told reporters: "My conscience is clear. I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules," DHA quoted him as saying.

A member of a rescue team stands in front of a collapsed building in Turkey.
A member of a Greek rescue team works on the site of a collapsed building as the search for survivors continues in Antakya on Saturday. (Kemal Aslan/Reuters)

Meanwhile, the efforts of Italian and Turkish rescuers paid off when they found a 35-year-old man from the wreckage in the hard-hit city of Antakya. He appeared unscathed as he was moved by stretcher to an ambulance, private NTV television reported.

Overnight, a child was freed in the town of Nizip, in Gaziantep, state-run Anadolu Agency reported, while a 32-year woman was rescued from the ruins of an eight-storey building in Antakya. She asked for tea when she emerged, according to NTV.

In Kahramanmaras, near the epicentre of the first quake, workers tried to reach a survivor detected by dogs beneath a now-pancaked seven-storey building, NTV reported.

Those found alive, however, remained the rare exception. 

Makeshift graveyard

A large makeshift graveyard was under construction in Antakya's outskirts on Saturday. Backhoes and bulldozers dug pits in the field as trucks and ambulances loaded with black body bags arrived continuously. The hundreds of graves, spaced no more than a metre apart, were marked with simple wooden planks.

Hatay's airport, where the runway was damaged, reopened on Sunday, the Transportation Ministry said, which should help to get aid into the region.

A man stands in the rubble of a damaged nursery in Syria.
Ramadan al-Suleiman stands amid rubble from the damaged kawkab al-Tofoula (Children's Planet) nursery, of which he is the manager, in the rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria, on Saturday. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

There are 34,717 Turkish search-and-rescue personnel involved. On Sunday, Turkey's Foreign Affairs Ministry said they have been joined by representatives from 74 countries, totalling 9,595 personnel. Eight more countries are expected to send search-and-rescue teams with 874 personnel, it said.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the pain will ripple forward, calling the disaster an "unfolding tragedy that's affecting millions."

"The compounding crises of conflict, COVID, cholera, economic decline and now the earthquake have taken an unbearable toll," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters from the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Tedros said WHO experts were waiting to cross into the northwest of Syria, "where we have been told the impact is even worse."

A man stands at a clusters of microphones, with eight people standing around him. Two multi-storey buildings are visible in the background.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media on Saturday during a visit to the hard-hit southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir. (Ilyas Akengin/AFP/Getty Images)

Martin Griffiths, United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, visiting the Turkish-Syrian border on Sunday, said Syrians have been left "looking for international help that hasn't arrived."

"We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria. They rightly feel abandoned," he said, adding, "My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as fast as we can."

With files from Briar Stewart, CBC News and The Associated Press