Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

‘My heart is aching,’ says one Utahn with family back home in Turkey

FILE - A man walks among rubble as he searches for people in a destroyed building in Adana, Turkey, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. The Turkish government has for years tempted fate by not enforcing modern construction codes at the same time it was allowing — and in some cases, encouraging — a real estate boom in earthquake-prone areas, according to experts in geology and engineering who repeatedly issued warnings.
Khalil Hamra
AP, file
FILE - A man walks among rubble as he searches for people in a destroyed building in Adana, Turkey, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.

Sevtap Yilmaz — a Utahn born and raised in Adana, Turkey — got emotional as she recounted the stories of her brother, a family physician back home. On Feb. 6, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey and Syria. At least 50,000 people have been killed in the quake and aftershocks, according to the United Nations.

“The stories he was telling me at first, [it] was really like a horror movie,” Yilmaz said. “The people were screaming. He saw people trapped in collapsed buildings. They were still alive, but they had fallen concrete on one arm. What he told me was he cannot forget the screams of those people asking for help. He's always having the flashback of what he's seen under those buildings.”

Adana, where Yilmaz still has family, is one of several cities between Turkey and Syria damaged by the quake. While her brother has been volunteering to help survivors, she’s worried about his children and her father.

Yilmaz said her father’s home was so badly damaged that it will need to be demolished. She moved him to an apartment she has in a different city, but he only stayed a short time before going back to Adana. He's now staying with a friend in a high-rise building not far from the quake region. Yilmaz is worried.

"We do not think that it's safe. But he's like 80 years old, and it seems that it's pretty hard for people to go to another city because they know no one there."

In the short term, she said the needs on the ground in Turkey are great. The Utah Turkish American Association is raising money for tents, sleeping bags, portable restrooms and school supplies. In the long term, Yilmaz thinks it will be years before new housing and a sense of normalcy return to her homeland.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ciara Hulet: How are your brother’s 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter holding up?

Sevtap Yilmaz: What they are telling [me] is they can't sleep. They can't eat. And they just want to stay awake till 4:30 a.m. and then they want to go to bed. They are just remembering the first shaking. They are just having that flashback whenever they just feel like there’s a small movement. Even if someone is walking, they are just feeling that the earthquake is coming. I might be bringing them here. Being away from the trauma, it would help.

CH: How long do you think before you'll go back to Turkey?

SY: I might be going back in two weeks’ time. I just want to make sure my father is safe and my niece and nephew. If they need something else, I just want to be there.

CH: How are you feeling about seeing your hometown in such a state? 

SY: It's really heartbreaking. My heart is aching. That's the word I can use. It’s aching. I really feel like everything stopped since the earthquake. There are times that I feel ashamed even breathing, even drinking a tea, even sleeping. And I feel ashamed being in such a comfortable state here, in such a comfortable and warm house. … I might be thousands of miles away, but I'm feeling the same anxiety that my relatives, my friends [are] facing over there.

CH: We wish the best for you and your family. And thank you so much for sharing your story. 

SY: Thank you so much. My family was on the luckier side. Our prayers are with all those people that are affected badly.

Ciara is a native of Utah and KUER's Morning Edition host
Emily Pohlsander is the Morning Edition Producer and graduated with a journalism degree from Missouri State University. She has worked for newspapers in Missouri and North Carolina.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.