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More than 11,000 people have died in Syria and Turkey this week after a strong earthquake brought buildings down and trapped people amid frigid temperatures. The scope of this already massive tragedy is expected to grow as more people are found in the rubble.
The pain and suffering are overwhelming. Lives lost. Homes destroyed. Family members trapped or missing. According to international officials, as many as 23 million people — that’s the state of Maine roughly 17 times over — have been impacted. The word “disaster” seems insufficient in capturing the extent of the devastation and despair.
“We could hear their voices, they were calling for help,” Ali Silo heartbreakingly told the Associated Press about two relatives who did not survive in Nurdagi, a town in southern Turkey.
For many in the region, it is yet another tragedy heaped on years of chaos. Silo came to Turkey a decade ago from Syria, where civil war has displaced millions of people. How much suffering must people endure?
“This is a crisis on top of multiple crises in the affected region,” Adelheid Marschang, a World Health Organization official, said in Switzerland this week.
These thousands of deaths are no less tragic because they are thousands of miles away. If anyone needs a reminder of the human toll, of the way that a crisis halfway around the world sends shockwaves that reach us here in Maine, consider Tuesday’s story from BDN reporter Kathleen O’Brien. It details the dreadful situation facing Bangor City Councilor Dina Yacoubagha, who as of Tuesday was still waiting for news of some family in Syria.
“I was terrified for every one of my family members and wondering if they’re safe,” she said. “I know people are struggling in Syria. The financial situation is awful and this is something my family and the country doesn’t need.”
Yacoubagha, who is originally from Syria and first came to the U.S. when she was 26, said her immediate family is safe but other loved ones were waiting to be rescued as of Monday night.
“I’m fortunate that my immediate family is safe physically, but I know the emotional and mental impact of this disaster isn’t going to go away any time soon,” she said. “Losing loved ones in collapsed buildings is going to be a constant reminder of this tragedy.”
Watching a tragedy like this unfold elsewhere can make us feel helpless, and hopeless. But even in moments of devastation, there are people helping and providing hope. Videos and photos of rescuers pulling people from the wreckage have provided some much-needed inspiration amid the pain. International aid and aid workers have started pouring in as well.
While it may not seem like there is much we can do from here in Maine, we can help the helpers. For example, PBS has compiled a list of organizations that people can donate to following the earthquake, including UNICEF, the Turkish Red Crescent, The Syrian American Medical Society and Doctors Without Borders. Yacoubagha hopes that people in Syria and Turkey will receive equal humanitarian aid, and we share that hope.
The human suffering caused by this earthquake transcends international boundaries, religions, disagreements between governments and many other invented fault lines that too often are drawn between us. Hopefully, the response will prove that the forces binding us together — like good will, charity and our shared humanity — are stronger than what divides us.