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'Wanted to do my part': B.C.'s Turkish community first in Canada to send aid to disaster zone

To help Turkey's earthquake recovery, British Columbians can donate supplies at 580 Industrial Ave. in Vancouver or donate cash to the Canadian Red Cross.

Vancouver’s Turkish community continues to gather survival supplies for the people of southern Turkey where catastrophic earthquakes occurred Monday, resulting in at least 11,000 deaths and more than 50,000 injuries reported, to date.

Buket Donnelly is one of dozens of volunteers from three Turkish-Canadian associations in B.C. overseeing the intake of donations at a Vancouver warehouse while holding back personal grief.

Donnelly is from the region impacted by the two major earthquakes that have damaged several major cities. While she says her immediate family members have survived, she knows of friends who have not.

“I have some friends who are still under the rubble, and we just heard today we lost some of them. So, I’m here to help. I wish I could be there because they need manpower, but unfortunately, it’s so far away,” said Donnelly.

The first main 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck at 5 p.m. PST Monday while a second 7.5-magnitude earthquake hit nine hours later. Apartment towers have collapsed across the region and winter weather is hampering rescue efforts, according to reports.

“My mom called and said, 'We’re all fine but it was horrible,'" said Donnelly. “My father is 84, my mom is 76; they were so scared. In the afternoon, an even bigger one happened.

“We (family members) found two bodies yesterday. She was a single mom, someone we knew. We found her with her second-grade daughter; they were found sleeping in the bed with their bodies, hand on hand,” said Donnelly, fighting back tears.

Donnelly said she returned from Adana in December, following a Christmas visit.

Adana is a city of about 2.3 million people, roughly as large as the Lower Mainland, situated 35 kilometres inland from the Mediterranean Sea. The New York Times reports high-rises there were reduced to rubble.

“It’s really a fun city, known as like a kebab city. We have a lot of fun stuff, we like to entertain, we like to eat, there’s nightlife,” said Donnelly.

“But now no one is on the streets and everyone is scared to go to their homes,” she said.

Assisting Donnelly at the warehouse was Halil Ibrahim Koklu, who also grew up in the region and emigrated to Canada five years ago.

“It’s a nice, amazing city. People are so amazing. When you go there, it’s people helping each other and when you say, ‘I’m a foreigner, can you help me?’ everyone helps. And right now, they need help, you know? The Canadian mosaic — Chinese, Filipino, Arabic, Turkic, every people, we need to help each other. So here, we are trying something,” said Koklu.

It is the Turkish Canadian Society, Canadian Turkish Educational and Cultural Foundation and UBC Turkish Student Association that have formed a makeshift logistics centre at 580 Industrial Ave. near Science World. There, volunteers are accepting donations, packing them on pallets and intending to ship them out on scheduled Turkish Airlines flights every other day, as needed.

Co-organizer Nejdet Altuntas said survival material is most needed: winter clothes, non-perishable food, baby food, diapers for adults and babies and camping gear.

At the warehouse Wednesday morning was Vancouver-area resident Karen Gin-Seto, dropping off supplies to Donnelly.

“I just wanted to do my part. Whenever I see anything, like in Ukraine, I always just like to help,” she said.

One shipment already left on Tuesday and the next is scheduled to depart on Thursday.

“We were so quick. In Canada, we were the first ones to get a shipment out — twelve pallets have gone already and we’re expecting more,” said Altuntas, of information provided to him by the Turkish Consulate General in Vancouver.

The groups have gotten logistical support from Mavi Jeans and the consulate, said Altuntas. Consul General Mehmet Taylan Tokmak appeared at the warehouse on Tuesday to offer thanks and support, according to the consulate general Facebook page.

In Canada, there are 43,130 residents or citizens who were born in Turkey, of which 4,250 are in B.C., according to Statistics Canada. There are 76,745 Canadians who disclose Turkish ethnicity. Altuntas puts the unofficial B.C. Turkish community at about 50,000 people.

As the death toll continues to rise, nearing 12,000, Turkey has called a state of emergency and is accepting international aid.

The Canadian government announced Wednesday it would be providing $10 million and matching all cash contributions to the Canadian Red Cross, up to $10 million.

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