Utah Turkish American Association finding ways to help after 7.8 earthquake

Feb 7, 2023, 2:23 PM | Updated: Feb 14, 2023, 4:11 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of five gathered in a Salt Lake living room Monday night, in disbelief.

Bringing in their friend Ahmet Emre via video chat, the group — all Turkish Americans — began to talk about what they’ve been hearing from family and friends in Turkey.

“Even walking on the street is really, really dangerous at this moment,” Pinar Toydemir said, looking down at Emre’s face on her phone screen. Isil Gokgoz Hessick, who sat next to Toydemir on the couch, pulled up a photo on her phone showing a collapsed building in Turkey that Emre sent to them from his hometown.

He explained what they were looking at.

“All family are under that debris when the building collapse,” he said. “They couldn’t actually escape in that particular one.”

“Wow,” Gokgoz Hessick said, zooming in on the debris. “Oh my goodness!” Toydemir exclaimed.

Emre said the building was four stories tall, before a 7.8 magnitude earthquake leveled it to the ground. His cousin in Turkey sent the photo to him. The earthquake killed thousands and affected millions of people in Turkey and Syria.

“We don’t know whether they are alive or not,” he said, of the family from his hometown who are still buried in the debris.

Rescuers scramble in Turkey, Syria after quake kills 4,000


Toydemir and Gokgoz Hessick explained they’ve been hearing a lot of stories like that from back home. There are friends they can’t get ahold of, with cell phone calls going straight to voicemail.

“People hear their families sound, they know they’re under the rubble. They talk to them. But they can’t lift it,” Gokgoz Hessick said, getting emotional as she spoke.

She explained how there’s just not enough volunteers to help go through the rubble and rescue those who are trapped, and still alive.

Even for family members who escaped, like Toydemir’s aunt and uncle, she said they are now living in their car because the buildings are too unsafe to return to.

Survivors scream as desperate rescuers work in Turkey, Syria

The group is all part of the Utah Turkish American Association. Toydemir is the president, and Gokgoz Hessick the director of public relations and social media.

They want to make sure Utahns know how to help, so they compiled a list of reputable organizations to donate to, listed below. Even beyond the damage, the group talked about ripple effects like traffic piling up on the roads as people evacuate, and access to food and water being cut off.

Emre said when he called his brother, his brother was in a long line waiting for gas at the gas station, hoping they wouldn’t run out. Toydemir, who is a doctor, explained how she heard from a doctor friend back home about how hospitals have collapsed with doctors and patients inside.

There aren’t enough hospitals to take care of everyone who is injured.

“This is a long process, it’s going to take long time [to heal],” Toydemir said. “People not able to go back to houses because some of the houses can actually collapse after weeks even.”

Coming up with the donation list is the first step, as they anxiously await updates on the crisis unfolding in their home country.

“We would like all Utahns and friends of Türkiye to us, to keep all the people in Türkiye who are affected by this in their thoughts and prayers,”  Gokgoz Hessick said.

The Utah Turkish American Association recommends people donate to these organizations to help in the earthquake aftermath:

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Utah Turkish American Association finding ways to help after 7.8 earthquake