‘We should do everything we can to bring hope to people.’ Turkey and Syria will need the world’s help for years

Hatay, one of the epicenters of the earthquake that affected many provinces of Turkey, is one of the provinces with the highest number of dead and injured. People waiting for their relatives under the rubble are in sorrow. Photo by Umit Turhan Coskun/NurPhoto via AP

The geologic fault lines that split Turkish cities and destroyed buildings and lives will, in the end, be no match for the deeply sustaining ties that connect the country’s families and communities, says Northeastern University professor Taskin Padir.

But the people of Turkey will need help for years, if not decades, to come, says Padir, who is Northeastern’s director of the Institute for Experiential Robotics. He came to the United States from Turkey more than 20 years ago to study engineering and still has family overseas.

Just about everybody in Turkey knows of someone impacted by the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that rocked that country and Syria, Padir says. The death toll in Turkey and Syria was more than 11,600 on Wednesday.

“The scale is so large you know someone who has a family there who is either left without a house or is struggling” to find shelter, Padir says.

“It affected more than 13 million people, 12 major cities in the region,” he says.

“The scale of this one I haven’t seen in my lifetime—that’s what makes it much more difficult to respond to.”

headshot of taskin padir
Taskin Padir, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern and a native of Turkey. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Padir says he was worried about former colleagues and friends who live in the affected region. So far, he says, “Everybody that I know is okay.”

“There is quite a strong community here (at Northeastern University) of professors of Turkish origin. We have Turkish students. We have been checking on each other,” Padir says.

“You know a friend, you know a former colleague who has ties to the region.”

The people of Turkey are connected in a way that belies the country’s immense size, he says. 

“People know people,” he says. “You have a relative somewhere else (in the country) and you can stay with them for a while. There will be a new normal coming.”

Padir says he’s pleased to see the generous global response to the emergency but says the goodwill needs to be sustained for years.

“They will need resources not just today, but tomorrow, the next decade,” he says.

“The whole system’s collapsed now. Schools are closed. Suffering is just immense. It’s a cold part of the country. You see snow in some places. You see rain.”

The impacted region is a mix of densely populated urban areas and more sparsely populated rural areas, he says.

The region holds many eight- to 10-story apartment buildings holding up to 32 households, many of which have collapsed, Padir says. “You do the math.”

“Certain places are completely wiped off the map,” he says. “Rebuilding is going to take years.”

Padir was a graduate student at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, when the last big earthquake, of magnitude 7.4 hit Turkey in 1999.

“It was different times,” he says. People relied on landlines, many of which were interrupted in the Istanbul area, to find out if relatives were okay.

Padir and other Turkish students at Purdue rallied and raised $20,000 for earthquake relief.

Due to the scope of the current devastation he says fundraising will have to last far into the future.

“We should do everything we can to bring hope to people,” Padir says.

Cynthia McCormick Hibbert is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at c.hibbert@northeastern.edu or contact her on Twitter @HibbertCynthia