Houston Turkish residents organize disaster relief after 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey, Syria

The earthquake shook central Turkey early Monday and was followed by a 7.5 magnitude aftershock.


AP Photo/Emrah Gurel
Rescue workers search for survivors on a collapsed building in Malatya, Turkey, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. 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.

Various organizations are starting disaster relief funds for friends and family in Turkey and Syria after an earthquake that shook central Turkey and parts of Syria on Monday.

One organization, the American Turkish Association, often hosts Turkish events and festivals in the Houston-area. The Association has linked various sites to donate financially within their community, as well as through other national organizations.

So far, they have raised $32,000 for victims in Turkey, and they have been working with the Turkish Consulate for donations, clothes, and supplies.

Doctor Ozlem Madi-Sisman, Dr. Madi, is a political science professor at the University of Houston and is also a part of the Association. She estimates a local Turkish population of over 5,000 in Houston.

Dr. Madi was born in raised in Turkey and said she was there when a similar earthquake happened in 1999. She said she remembers having no power, water, or sanitation for a very long time and can imagine what family and friends are going through right now.

"There are still people under rubble. I have friends who are in the region and they are kind of just standing in front of the rubble and waiting for their loved ones to be rescued," she said.

However, she also said the difference between now and over 20 years ago is that this week's earthquake hit in the winter when people are standing outside in 30 degree weather.

Dr. Madi also noted how social media has changed the way aid has come for those in Turkey during this earthquake.

"We have seen people using social media, especially Twitter, to seek help. We have seen short videos of people taken under rubble," she said. "They are giving information about their whereabouts and seeking help."

One Rice University student found out about the earthquake through social media. Can Erdogan is the President of Rice University's Turkish Student Association and lost sleep trying to maintain contact with his family.

"I was doing some homework and then I took a break to take a look at the internet. Then I saw several news articles flashing and popping on the news sites and on social media. At first I thought, ‘there must have been a problem'," Erdogan said.

Erdogan was born and raised in Hatay and still has family and friends who live there. Hatay is located near the outskirts of the most affected area within Turkey, with the earthquake estimated to have been felt more than 200 miles away from the most severely affected areas. Erdogan said it took roughly one to two hours to get in contact with some family members, while others took ten.

"I reached for my phone to call my parents. I called my mom, no response. I called my dad, no response. I called my grandma, no response. I called my uncle, no response," Erdogan said. "You can imagine the feeling of helplessness being abroad, overseas. I legitimately was ready for the worst."

Erdogan said that fortunately, he heard back from them before the end of the night. However, he said the Turkish Student Association at Rice plans to start fundraising for those who were not so fortunate.

"I still have friends who are waiting to hear back from their parents," Erdogan said.

Patricia Ortiz

Patricia Ortiz


Patricia Ortiz is a daily reporter for News 88.7. Her work includes a variety of topics including transportation, technology, energy, immigration and education. Patricia graduated from the University of Houston in Fall 2022 with a Bachelor's in Journalism. She spent most of her college career at the university's literary magazine,...

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