A British Columbia woman who lost nearly a dozen family members in the devastating earthquake in Turkey has returned to Vancouver after a trip to her hometown, and said the region remains desperately in need of help.
Nural Sumbultepe lost 10 relatives in the quake, including six immediate family members.
“Six very dear to my heart that I see all the time when I go home and that I communicate with almost on a weekly basis from Canada,” she said.
“Who am I going to mourn today? Every day I think about one of them in detail.”
Sumbultepe returned to Canada from the city of Iskenderun, which was devastated by the disaster, on Wednesday.
Grieving B.C. woman works to rebuild hometown after devastating earthquake in Turkey
While in Turkey, she toured the devastation, visited military sites and provided as much aid as she was able to her family, and anyone else she could help.
“I literally collapsed — my legs did not hold me — when I saw the destruction,” she said, adding that she was on the ground for another terrifying earthquake while in the country.
“I had to visit a lot of graves, as you can imagine, and I supported my sister who lost very close immediate family members and my niece who needed help with her two kids … I visited a lot of what we call tent cities, where people were living in containers and tents.”
As the death toll in Turkey and Syria surpasses 50,000, the monumental tragedy is becoming a growing humanitarian crisis. Calls for international aid continue amid allegations of negligence and corruption against both country’s governments.
Sumbultepe said the trip to Turkey left her with numerous concerns about the situation on the ground.
Efforts to get aid like shelter and water to survivors has been slow, she said, and many people have been left without critical basics. The military has been slow to respond, and transparency is lacking on the billions of dollars raised for relief, she said.
“I still don’t understand why people are still homeless, why they still don’t have shelter and clean water and tents,” she said.
“What the world doesn’t know is some people who were rescued, they froze to death.”
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Sumbultepe said there is growing anger about the apparent failure of government to enforce earthquake safety codes implemented after the deadly 1999 Istanbul earthquake.
In Iskenderun, there were deadly building collapses in six neighbourhoods where she said construction should never have been allowed in the first place.
The 15-storey building her sister-in-law lived and died in also appears to have been built too tall for its location, contrary to code.
With an election scheduled for this spring, she said the government appears to be rushing to rebuild, without consulting seismologists, l city planners and local leaders, raising concerns about a repeat of the disaster in the future.
Sumbultepe said she’s profoundly grateful for the financial support her fellow British Columbians have provided for those affected by the tragedy.
But she said there’s much more Canada can do to help.
“I’d really like to see Canada keep that promise … about rebuilding and repairing,” she said.
“And I’d like to encourage the Canadian government to talk with the Turkish government about careful planning.”
Back in Vancouver, Sumbultepe said she’s still struck with grief anytime she finds herself alone. But she’s already planning her next trip, with hopes of heading back to support her family in a matter of weeks.
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