Vancouver's Turkish community unites to collect donations for quake survivors

Turkish community rallies

Donations are pouring into a Vancouver warehouse for those affected by Monday's devastating earthquake in Turkey, but a volunteer organizer says the country could most benefit from professional search and rescue teams.

“The next 72 hours is crucial," said Cansoy Gurocak, who was one of dozens of volunteers dealing with donations of food, clothing, tents, sleeping bags, diapers and other goods in a fundraising event that was quickly co-ordinated by the Canadian Turkish Educational and Cultural Foundation.

Both Turkey and Syria were rocked Monday by the massive quake, setting off international aid efforts that now include a $10-million commitment from the Canadian government and search and rescue teams being flown in from the United States.

Gurocak, who's been in Canada for 13 years, says he first heard the news in a call from his mother in Turkey just after the quake.

“She told me this is one of the strongest ones that she has ever experienced in her life,” he said. “I called my uncle. He said that his house is destroyed. I called my aunt, same situation."

He says he's barely slept in the days since the quake.

Gurocak and other members of Vancouver's Turkish community flocked to the warehouse in the industrial area of Vancouver on Tuesday collecting donations for those affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that's left more than 7,500 dead and cities and towns in ruins.

He said he was grateful to hear the Canadian government has committed to providing $10 million for relief efforts, but professional search and rescue personnel on the ground would make a more immediate impact.

But, he said, after search and rescue efforts, the next crucial step is building shelter for those displaced by the quake, then distributing donations of food and clothing, and only after that will monetary donations start to make a difference.

To rebuild in the most hard-hit areas like the towns of Islahiye and Pazarcik, Gurocak said, "it will take years, not days, not weeks, not months."

But rescue efforts in smaller villages, Gurocak said, are all the more difficult with road infrastructure damaged or destroyed in the quake, while cold weather makes life more miserable for survivors. “Time is our enemy at the moment," he said. “Even if someone survived from the earthquake, he or she will die from the cold."

At the Vancouver warehouse Tuesday, Gurocak and other volunteers boxed up donated goods to be shipped via a direct Turkish Airlines flight from Vancouver to Istanbul scheduled every two days.

While Gurocak was physically in Vancouver during the quake and its aftermath, his thoughts remain with his friends and relatives back in Turkey.

"If they have nowhere to go or if they have family members under the collapsed building, they have to stay because they have hope that they can survive and rescue the people,” he said.

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