By Orly Halpern
Onur Karabay and his family were asleep when, shortly after 4 a.m. on 6 February, the deadliest earthquake to hit his country in more than a century convulsed the ground under their six-story apartment building.
"For a full minute and a half, the building shook violently," recalls Karabay, a member of the Rotary Club of Gaziantep Ipekyolu.
His city, Gaziantep, in the south of Turkey, was near the epicenter. He and his wife shouted and ran for their two children, then grabbed whatever essentials they could carry — shoes, jackets, phones, keys — and made for the door, as the first of the aftershocks hit.
They made it out and took refuge at a one-story home in a rural area outside the city. There, Karabay and his family are sleeping in one room with about 25 other people to try to stay warm. There is no electricity, and the late-winter nighttime temperatures dip below freezing.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake and hundreds of aftershocks killed tens of thousands of people in Turkey and Syria and reduced huge sections of cities to rubble.
Like tens of thousands of Turks and Syrians who lost their homes and belongings but managed to escape with their lives, Ahmet İlker Suat, president of the Rotary Club of Gaziantep-Alleben, has no place to go. He sleeps in his car with his daughter and wife.
"A lot of people sleep outside," he says. "There are no toilets, there is no water. The weather is very cold. People light fires to keep warm."
Despite these hardships, Karabay and Suat quickly connected with other Rotary members in their city and around the country to provide help to people like themselves who have lost everything.
In Gaziantep, Rotarians have set up an aid distribution center at a school owned by the brother of a Rotarian. They provide meals for 500 people a day, turn the classrooms and hallways into dormitories, and make the bathroom available to the public.
In addition, Rotarians from other parts of the country truck food, water, clothing, blankets, and other necessities to cities and towns across the disaster zone.
In Adana, another hard-hit city, semitrailers of supplies arrive at the construction yard of Kazim Apa, a member of the Rotary Club of Adana.
"People are sending supplies from all over," he says. He and other volunteers transfer the items to smaller cars for distribution because the larger trucks can't navigate through the destruction.
At night, with no power, cities are plunged into darkness in the weeks after the quake.
"You have to use the light on your mobile phone to find your way," Apa says, describing the scene in Hatay, where his mother lives. "People there wait in lines to use car batteries to charge phones and call relatives to ask for help."
On the national level, Rotary clubs in Turkey have donated tents, clothes, and heaters, and are trying to buy shipping containers that can be turned into makeshift shelters. Rotary leaders there are in regular communication with ShelterBox and Habitat for Humanity International, providing them support and invaluable situational awareness.
Within hours of the earthquake, RI President Jennifer Jones communicated with the affected Rotary districts and encouraged governors there to apply for grants from the Disaster Response Fund and share information about their relief efforts, so Rotary can amplify the calls for support.
While more help is desperately needed, Rotarians like Apa take comfort in the determination and resilience shared by fellow members to see a full recovery.
"Our roots will grow from this land," he says.