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'Buildings are broken': Calgary man in Turkiye describes disaster scene post-earthquake

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Calgarians at home and abroad are reeling in the wake of a massive earthquake that struck a war-torn region near the border of Turkiye and Syria.

In the early morning hours on Monday, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck a region near the border between the two nations, killing more than 2,500 people and injuring thousands. Officials fear that death toll could climb much higher given thousands of buildings have been destroyed and many residents are likely trapped underneath the rubble.

Abdulfatah Sabouni, a Calgary business owner who moved to Canada from Aleppo, Syria, several years ago, is currently in the Turkish city of Gaziantep – 120 kilometres from Aleppo.

"At 4 a.m., I was in a hotel and I felt the building moving – it was really strong," he said. "It was around three minutes.

"After that, I went out and about 20 minutes later, the shocks began."

He told CTV News the devastation in the region is difficult to put into words.

"A lot of buildings are broken and there are a lot of people under the buildings as well," he said.

Sabouni says there is a lot of anxiety right now among the survivors.

"People aren't sleeping because nobody knows what is going on," he said.

"I'm worried and the people are worried – they can't go back to their homes right now."

He says there have been earthquakes in Turkiye before, but this time is "different."

"It doesn't happen like that," Sabouni said, adding the cold weather is also a problem for people.

CALGARY FAMILY LOST 20 RELATIVES IN EARTHQUAKE

While the images of the devastation are hard to fathom from those on the ground, others who are left watching from abroad say they are heartbroken.

Adel Ghanam told CTV News he hasn't slept since hearing the news of the earthquake and is anxious to hear from any relatives who are still alive.

"I already heard from (my brother) and they are safe," he said. "My mom and my brother, they are still OK, but I lost like around maybe more than 20 or more cousins and a nephew from my family."

He says his relatives have been living with war raging nearby for years, but a situation like an earthquake is different.

"We have tried to be safe, but it came at four o'clock in the morning – everybody is asleep. So that's the hardest time. I mean, you can't do anything."

Adel's family in Calgary is also finding the situation very difficult, especially since they're so far away.

"(It) reminds me that there's nothing I can do from here," said Adel's daughter Riham.

"You just feel helpless."

Riham says her father is taking the situation particularly hard, given that he hasn't been able to make contact with other members of the family, including his mother.

She says her grandmother is OK, but it's still "really, really heartbreaking."

"You can't do anything about it. You just feel sorry that they're going through this."

Riham says the living conditions in the affected region have been difficult for many years and there aren't many resources to help the victims.

"There's no one to help," she said. "Neighbours are the ones who are trying to pull their neighbours out."

Whole families have been devastated, Riham says, and many victims are in "desperate need of help."

"We need people to at least know. People outside and inside of Syria who still don't know if some family member is still alive.

"It's still not OK, back in Syria. People really do need help. Emotionally they're, I mean, they're way down."

For now, with so little information coming out of the disaster zone, Adel says they can only pray for the victims of the earthquake.

"I want everybody to pray, like to pray for Syria – to pray for us to pray for those people."

NO DETAILS ON CANADIAN VICTIMS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada "stands ready to help" the survivors, pledging support for the thousands affected by the disaster in the region.

The Conservative Party said it would also support any effort by the government to provide assistance.

Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday about whether any Canadians were affected.

Officials say major aftershocks also struck near the centre of the quake, in Turkiye's southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, which was felt from as far away as Cairo, Egypt.

The natural disaster is the latest incident of devastating hardship on both countries, where Syria is still wracked by civil war and Turkiye is housing millions of refugees who fled from that conflict.

The region in Turkiye hit by the earthquake sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 people were killed in similarly powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkiye in 1999.

In Calgary, the Turkish-Canadian Cultural Association will be setting up a GoFundMe campaign to gather funds to help with the relief effort.

The Canadian Red Cross has also launched a nationwide campaign for Canadians to use to support the victims.

(With files from the Canadian Press and Associated Press)

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