Turkish Central Floridians grieve lives lost in homeland earthquake

Death toll in Syria and Turkey approaching 20,000 after massive earthquake

The death toll in Syria and Turkey is now approaching 20,000 people after a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake Monday.

Central Floridians from Syria and Turkey are doing what they can from afar to support their families back home, many also receiving more devastating news each day as the death toll climbs.

For Ayten Hooper and her brother, Abraham, in Ormond Beach, keeping their restaurant, Istanbul Turkish Mediterranean Cuisine, going this week has been difficult. They said the emotions of what’s happening back home in Turkey is weighing on them.

“Everybody is panicked, everybody is devastated, they’re panicked,” she said.

The siblings said when the earthquake hit Turkey Monday morning, they immediately reached out to their family and said those phone calls to check-in haven’t stopped.

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“The last few days, we’ve been devastated. They’re finding more and more of our relatives and friends,” Abraham said.

Two of their cousins, and countless friends, have died. They’re part of the more than 19,000 dead so far, and that number is expected to rise as first responders dig through rubble. Tens of thousands more have been injured.

“If you can help; praying is a big thing for one. I believe in praying,” said Abraham.

In Apopka, Serhat Ozhan has also been grieving from a great distance.

“I have an extended family that passed away - about eight of them,” he said.

Ozhan is from Osmaniye, the central region of the country in the epicenter of the destruction. He calls what’s going on back home “chaos.”

“I was trying to see what I can do to help because they’re devastated. They need help, they need organization,” he said.

Ozkan’s company, Motorcar Concepts, is now raising money on a GoFundMe to send back to Osmaniye.

They hope to hit $15,000 in donations, and he said his company will match $10,000 of that.

“We want to reach them first-hand. They are going to be getting help, they’re going to be getting food, they’re going to get bread, they’re going to get water, but these people are not reaching to their bank accounts,” he said.

For those who don’t have the means to give, the families ask the world to keep praying.

“I believe in God, and I believe that there is a reason for this. I think God wants us to get together, the whole world to help each other,” Ayten said.

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Molly joined News 6 at the start of 2021, returning home to Central Florida.