Monday’s devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Turkey has Bay Area residents with ties to the region scrambling to connect with relatives and friends in the country, collect needed supplies, and advocate for local governments to support the rescue and recovery effort over 6,800 miles away.

They are also using each other as communication hubs to try to get reliable information as the crisis worsens, with the death toll in Turkey and northern Syria rising to more than 12,000 on Wednesday.

“Everyone knows someone in Turkey under rubble right now,” said Basak Altan, founder of the Berkeley Turkish School by the Bay Area Turkish Society.

Altan said an emergency law passed in the aftermath of the quake is making it harder for people elsewhere in the country to make it to the affected region, which includes 10 cities. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also suspended Twitter in the country, which Altan said was a critical communication tool for people trapped in desperate situations.

She said the challenge getting information out of the country was making it more difficult to be so far away, saying there was “a sense of frustration and just deep sadness for all those people who have been lost.”

Senior Airman Garrett LaMarche, 6th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, pushes a cargo pallet bound for Turkey onto a C-17 Globemaster III at Dover Air Force Base on Feb. 7, 2023. (Staff Sgt. Marco A. Gomez/U.S. Air Force via Bay City News)

Altan said the Bay Area Turkish Society was directing monetary donations to the Bridge to Turkiye fund, which can be found online.

Donations to aid Syrians can be made to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Charity by air

In addition to monetary donations, organizations including Empowering the Turkish-American Community USA, known as ETAC, and the Turkish American Association of California, known as CalTurks, have been collecting donations to send directly to the region via Turkish Airlines’ only direct flight from the Bay Area, which flies out of San Francisco International Airport to Istanbul.

Donations can be brought to ETAC’s community center in Santa Clara, which is located at 3170 De La Cruz Blvd., Suite 119, and to multiple locations around the Bay Area and Central Coast supported by CalTurks, which can be found on the group’s website.

Especially needed right now are clothes including underwear, winter coats, hand warmers, blankets, baby formula and basic medications like Vicks and Tylenol, according to ETAC co-founder and co-president Hulya Koc.

Volunteers are photographed with earthquake relief supplies at the ETAC Turkish Community Center in Santa Clara on Tuesday, prior to loading them on trucks to take to Turkish Airlines at San Francisco International Airport. The center is among several Bay Area locations collecting money and donated items to send to the disaster region. (ETAC via Bay City News)

Koc said she was waiting to hear from friends who had relatives trapped in the earthquake zone. She called on the city of San Francisco to send emergency responders in coordination with Turkey’s consulate general. She said 81 emergency responders had been mustered from Los Angeles and hoped Bay Area governments would do the same.

“Everyone is on their edge, of course, trying to get some news,” Koc said.

CalTurks has 400-500 members between its Monterey, Bay Area, and Sacramento chapters, according to Ilge Karancak, executive director of the organization’s Turkish Festival hosted by the Monterey Chapter.

‘A lot of big-hearted people’

“We’re doing everything we can here,” said Karancak.

That included trying to keep each other informed with the latest news. Karancak said many families in the group’s communication network had still not heard from family members as of Wednesday.

“Turkey has had earthquakes in the past, it will have them in the future. People are fed up and frustrated.”

Basak Altan, Bay Area Turkish Society

Karancak said the outpouring of support from the Central Coast has been enormous and she had been fielding nearly nonstop calls and emails from residents around the Monterey Bay area who wanted to help.

“We have a lot of big-hearted people,” she said.

Karancak said the earthquake brought her a sense of deja vu. She said she had lost seven family members in a quake in western Turkey in 1999.

The area of Turkey and Syria impacted by Monday’s 7.8-magnitude Kahramanmaras earthquake is highlighted. (U.S. Geological Survey/Google)

Altan, of the Bay Area Turkish Society, had similar sentiments, and said construction in recent years had not considered the seismic threats and the government’s restrictions on journalists had hurt accountability.

“Why is this situation unfolding this way?” Altan asked.

She said the government needed to focus on safety and culturally relevant construction that adhere to safety standards. “Turkey has had earthquakes in the past, it will have them in the future. People are fed up and frustrated.”