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Monday, September 25, 2023
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Turkish UB students share stories about devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake, ask university community for help

‘I was very scared to lose the people I love’

<p>On Feb. 21, the University Honors College held a <a href=""><u>panel discussion</u></a> and Q&amp;A on the earthquake to help members of the UB community better understand the disaster.</p>

On Feb. 21, the University Honors College held a panel discussion and Q&A on the earthquake to help members of the UB community better understand the disaster.

Basak Akbas spent hours looking at the devastating pictures from the earthquake in Turkey. She felt hopeless and defeated because she was so far away from home.

One picture in particular — of a father holding the hand of his daughter who died in a building collapse — overwhelmed her with emotion. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. 

Akbas, a graduate student pursuing a Master of Science in business analytics, didn’t think the destruction would be that bad when she first heard the news. She was shocked. 

“I didn’t expect it because sometimes we have earthquakes,” Akbas said. “We usually get a three-point-something earthquake, and we don’t really feel it or get affected by it.”

Nearly 47,000 people died in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey on Feb. 6, according to ABC News. Millions more were displaced, according to The Guardian, and aftershock quakes have killed at least another eight people.

On Feb. 21, the university Honors College held a panel discussion and Q&A on the earthquake to “help members of the UB community better understand the event and what the people of the area face in the upcoming weeks and months,” said Neil Savoy, program director for the Honors College.

Azra Deniz Çömlek, a senior international trade major, was worried that her family wouldn’t make it out alive.

“I wasn’t sure which cities were affected by the earthquake, so I was very scared for my people. Thankfully my [immediate] family was safe,” Çömlek said. “But I still had some family members and loved ones who couldn’t get out. I was very scared to lose the people I love.”

Everyone Çömlek knew survived — except for her ex-boyfriend. He was 23 years old.

“It was three days after the earthquake, and unfortunately, they were not able to get to him,”  Çömlek said. “He was the only person that I lost.”

Çömlek’s family members were pulled out from the rubble and saved. 

Both Akbas and Çömlek, members of UB’s tennis team, said that the UB Athletic Association encouraged every team to donate something, whether it be diapers, blankets or other supplies. 

“UB Athletics is helping us a lot, and they’re checking on us all the time,” Çömlek said. “They’re helping us through this and donating as much as they can.”

Donations are being accepted through March 1, in room 161 in Alumni Arena.

But despite the assistance from UB Athletics, Çömlek and Akbas said they wished the university had done more.

Çömlek said that she and other international students only received one email from the university with UB’s condolences and contact information for Counseling Services. She is disappointed and believes the university didn’t do enough. 

“I would appreciate it if they would have posted something on social media — Twitter or Instagram — because they have a lot of followers,” Çömlek said. “I don’t have that reach for resources, but they do.” 

Çömlek said that she tried to reach out to the university to help share donation links, but they didn’t respond to her emails.

“Student Life, specifically the Dean of Students Office, messaged students to offer their support and assistance,” Katie Tudini, Assistant Vice Provost and Director of International Student Services said in an email to The Spectrum. “ISS sent a message to all F-1 and J-1 students from Turkey and Syria on Feb. 13. We sent our condolences, offered our support and reminded students of campus resources including University Counseling.”

Alongside this, the university connected the campus community to a website with a trusted aid organization. The website is housed within ISS’s website.

The university also has an international student emergency fund that can receive donations.

“Turkey needs support and money,” Çömlek said.“$1 is equal to 18 Turkish Liras, which is five loaves of bread in our country, and a lot of people are hungry right now.”

Çömlek said that over 60 countries are helping out Turkey, which is “more than she thought would help.”

They are receiving a lot of clothes and sanitary items, but aid organizations are still cash-strapped. 

“A lot of people had to cut their arms or legs to get out [of the buildings], so people need money for rehabilitation,” Çömlek said. “People need money to find a new home and to send kids to school. Turkey needs money to rebuild.”

Right now, Turkey is using all the resources they have to provide shelter. Aid workers are putting beds in buses and using cruise ships to house survivors, according to Akbas.

Kevin McCue, a member of the Australian Earthquake Engineering Society, told The New York Times that rebuilding could take “at least” a decade. Another expert, civil engineer consultant Hussein Dhaban, told Al Jazeera that demolishing damaged buildings could take six months and removing rubble could take years.

“Ten cities in Turkey were demolished and need to be rebuilt from the ground up,” Akbas said. “It will definitely take a long time. I mean, they’re still trying to find people under the buildings. So, I don’t even know how long this will go on.”

Those wishing to donate can give to AKUT, which is endorsed by UB Athletics. 

Victoria Hill is the senior news editor and can be reached at 



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