Turkey native worried for loved ones after 7.8 magnitude earthquake kills, injures thousands

SAN ANTONIO – Thousands were killed, and even more were injured in southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The tragedy is affecting those in San Antonio who have a connection to the region.

Dr. Ferhat Ozturk was born and raised in Turkey. He was alerted of the earthquake as he prepared his children for bed Sunday night.

The alert was via text from a friend in Turkey. Ozturk, in shock at the situation, was glued to the news in an effort to relieve some anxiety with more information.

He said his anxiety only worsened as he learned more about the damage and the climbing death toll.

“The more I listened and the more I watched, I noticed the expense was getting higher,” said Ozturk.

Turkey-Syria map (KSAT)

More than 3,000 people were killed after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which led to both countries declaring a state of emergency.

“I keep thinking, ‘Should I fly to Turkey to help the people remove the rubble and help save as many people as we can?’ Because it’s hard to stay here when your loved ones are, you know, trying to survive under brick and mortar,” said Ozturk.

News of the earthquake immediately took Ozturk back to the summer of 1999 when he experienced the power of a 7.6 magnitude earthquake first-hand.

On August 17th, 1999, he was in Istanbul for college. He said Turkey undergoes several earthquake drills throughout the year, but no training exercise could ever prepare for the power of mother nature in full force.

It was very scary because you don’t have so much time to think, and you need to act very quickly and protect yourself,” said Ozturk.

Ferhat Ozturk in 2003 (Credit: Ferhat Ozturk)

The earthquake and aftershocks felt early Monday morning toppled buildings on both sides of the border. Emergency crews also dealt with freezing winter weather.

“It’s very cold outside. It’s minus two degrees Celsius, which is about 25 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s snowing, and so many people are sick. They cannot access their medication. They cannot access heating elements,” said Ozturk. “The Department of Energy has also declared that there is a huge energy crisis going on in Turkey, too. No heating, no electricity and the people are having a hard time finding gas.”

Ozturk said Turkey is equipped with the needed resources to help assist in rescue measures but says war-torn Syria is not so much.

“When I look at the Syrian side, their hospitals, their buildings, they don’t have equipment to remove the rubble to help the people. Those people are more desperate, and I feel so sorry for them as well. I wish we could help them more as well,” said Ozturk.

He says the Raindrop Foundation, a local nonprofit founded by Turkish Americans, will host a fundraiser and a vigil in the coming days.

To keep up with the latest local efforts, visit www.raindropsanantonio.org for more information.

You can also help by heading over to Embrace Relief’s website. The nonprofit organization was founded as a disaster relief organization in 2013 to help victims of natural disasters in the U.S. and abroad.

About the Author:

Jonathan Cotto is a reporter for KSAT’s Good Morning San Antonio. He’s a bilingual award-winning news reporter and he joined KSAT in 2021. Before coming to San Antonio, Cotto was reporting along the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas. He’s a veteran of the United States Navy.