Central Florida’s Turkish community devastated after deadly earthquake in homeland

7.8, 7.5 earthquakes left thousands of Turks, Syrians dead, injured

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Turkish community of Central Florida is mourning after a 7.8 earthquake struck Turkey and northern Syria and a second 7.5 earthquake hit the eastern region, leaving thousands dead and injured.

Unal Kayakiren, a native of Turkey, said he didn’t hear from family members living in the small town of Malatya for several hours and feared the worst.

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“My heart was broken. I started crying and my wife said, ‘OK, you have to be strong,’” Kayakiren said. “After a while, finally, I found my aunt. I’m so sad. I mean, if it happens to any country, it’s like a disaster.”

Yasemin Aksoy works with the Istanbul Cultural Center in Casselberry. The organization said there are roughly 2,000 Turks in Central Florida.

“The Turkish community throughout the United States, they’re a very tightknit community,” Aksoy said. “We’re all communicating in WhatsApp and text messaging just to make sure that our families and friends are safe.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the epicenter of the quake was in Gaziantep, a province located more than 700 miles southeast of Istanbul.

“We’re concerned for our friends who are reporting that their relatives are still missing and being searched for,” Aksoy said. “Unfortunately, the reports that I’ve been getting from those closer to me here in the Orlando and the Central Florida area (are) that search efforts have commenced or are in the early stages of being launched.”

Yasemin, whose parents are from Turkey, said they’re faith is helping them stay strong for their country.

“My parents came from there in the 70s and 80s. So, our community is a very resilient one, we are a very hopeful people and I know that we’re gonna find strength during this for each other,” she said.

Aksoy said the Central Florida community can help with a monetary donation. The Istanbul Cultural Center has a sister organization called Embrace Relief that’s already collecting donations to help the victims of the earthquake.

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About the Author:

Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.