Three weeks after massive earthquakes and aftershocks hit southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria on Feb. 6, the extent of the damage is still being tallied.
More than 47,000 people are reported dead. The cost of rebuilding is currently estimated at about $84 billion.
The first earthquake hit about 4 a.m. and registered a 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale, the largest quake in Turkey since 1939. Nine hours later, an aftershock of 7.5 struck. Adding to the misery, on Feb. 20, the region was hit by another earthquake of 6.3 magnitude.
In all, more than 1,600 smaller aftershocks have been recorded in the region.
In the Hatay province, the southernmost region of Turkey, more than 9,200 buildings were damaged or destroyed. In Antakya, the capital of the province, 80 percent of the buildings may need to be demolished due to structural damage.
Civil war has been raging for more than a decade in the region of Syria most damaged by the quakes. The city of Aleppo already had buildings in danger of collapse from bombardments and street-to-street battles. The region also was dealing with food shortages and economic chaos, situations exacerbated by the earthquakes.
A professor and student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga are among those from Turkey who have worried for family and friends and have been concerned for the future of their country since Feb. 6.
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In the first nights after the earthquakes, Dr. Erkan Kaplanoglu lay awake, the fate of his family and friends running through his head.
“The first three days were way hard. I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to sleep. I’d lay down, then I’d remember their faces,” said Kaplanoglu, associate professor of engineering management and technology and known as Dr. K to his students.
His immediate family is unharmed, but he lost five cousins and two friends, said Kaplanoglu, a prosthetics manufacturing expert who came to UTC three years ago.
He said that one of his friends was a teacher who moved to southeastern Turkey before the earthquakes to teach Syrian refugees fleeing from that long-running country’s civil war.
Like many, Kaplanoglu immediately tried to reach his family and friends after the earthquakes. Like most, he couldn’t get through because the phone system was wrecked.
He said Internet connections still worked in some places, including the Turkish capital of Istanbul, so he played internet dominoes. A friend in Istanbul would give him information on areas that desperately needed help. Kaplanoglu then would contact friends who could provide humanitarian aid and physicians who could offer medical care to tell them where they were needed.
“I’m trying to make a connection between cities,” Kaplanoglu said.
He’s also trying to make connections with companies that manufacture prosthetic devices, both in the United States and Europe. Through emails and phone calls, he’s asking them to donate devices to victims of the earthquakes.
He hopes to travel to Turkey soon to get the prosthetics to those who need them and work with physicians who treat those victims.
“We need to help the others,” he said. “We need to help the survivors.”
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Dogu Sahin was playing the “Counter-Strike” video game on his computer when the earthquake hit.
It was 2011, and he was in his bedroom in Simav, Turkey, located in the western part of the country—about four hours south of Istanbul.
“First, you heard the sound of the earth movement. It’s the most horrible sound that I’ve ever heard in my life. I never want to hear it again,” he said. “A second later, you feel the shake of the building. Everything was shaking.”
His experience 12 years ago gave him some insight into the horrors of Feb. 6, said Sahin, who arrived in the United States on Jan. 3 to begin pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at UTC.
No one in Sahin’s immediate family was injured on Feb. 6. Most lived in Ankara, the capital located in central Turkey, hundreds of miles north of the earthquake zone, he said. None of his extended family or friends were hurt either, he said.
“As far as I know,” he added.
His mechanical engineering program concentration is in computational fluid dynamics, so he’s unsure how he can help rebuild efforts when he returns to Turkey for summer break.
“I don’t know what the situation will be like in the summer,” he said.
Right now, trying to find food and shelter are overriding concerns for those who lived through the earthquake. Still, Sahin said they may make another discovery after life returns to whatever state of normal is possible.
During the 2011 earthquake in Simav, Sahin’s apartment was among many damaged buildings that had to be torn down.
“The buildings that you used to see, that you used to pass by every day, are gone,” he said. “There’s a high school field where I used to play with my friends, and now it’s not there.
“We lost the past.”