February 10, 2023

Turkish student group launches humanitarian effort for those devastated by quake as death toll surpasses 20,000 in Turkey, Syria

Event today hopes to help raise monetary, clothing, medical supplies for victims

A devastating deadly earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday is hitting close to home for many Purdue University students, faculty members, researchers and staff originally from Turkey who are concerned about their families’ well-being and safety.

In response, the Purdue Turkish Student Association has scheduled a gathering from 3:30-6:30 p.m. Friday (Feb. 10) in WALC, Room 1132, to raise money, supplies and other assistance in support of the earthquake-ravaged victims in the region. Go here for more information.

“We are devastated by the earthquake and the aftermath it has brought onto the Turkish citizens in the region,” says Kaan Cankiri, a junior in global and macroeconomics from Ankara, who is treasurer of the Turkish Student Association. “We have the power to unite and support those in need. In these trying times, any form of support, big or small, can make a difference in the lives of those affected.”

The death toll from the deadliest earthquake in a decade has now climbed above 22,000, including nearly 19,000 people in Turkey and 3,000 across the border in Syria. Thousands also have been injured or are missing as the urgent race for survivors continues amid the frigid weather conditions in the region. More than 6,000 buildings were toppled from the magnitude 7.8 temblor, which initially struck in the southern Turkish province of Kahramanmaras. Hours later, a 7.5 magnitude quake hit more than 60 miles away. Violent aftershocks continued into Tuesday.

“Knowing Purdue is such a big school, even a single dollar from most students will make the biggest impact to save all the people who have been harmed by this tragedy,” says Bora Onur Taspek, a junior in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Istanbul, who is president of the Turkish student group. “One U.S. dollar equals 20 Turkish lira. And right now, they need it more than ever.”

For the Fall 2022 semester, Purdue had 107 students and 15 researchers with Turkish citizenship on the West Lafayette campus, according to Global Partnerships and Programs.

Purdue University civil engineering professor Ayhan Irfanoglu Purdue University civil engineering professor Ayhan Irfanoglu, a native of Turkey who still has family living in the country, highlights a map of the major seismic hot spots in the world, including the East Anatolian fault along the southeastern part of Turkey that ruptured this week. (Purdue University photo/Phillip Fiorini) Download image

Both Cankiri and Taspek say their family members, thankfully, are safe. But they and their fellow Purdue Turkish students have had sleepless nights all week trying to check on the status of their loved ones. “The same thing cannot be said for many others, however,” adds Taspek, pointing to World Health Organization estimates showing the death toll of more than 22,000 could climb eightfold. Even survivors in the region are confronting horrific conditions and possible hypothermia because of the bitter winter weather.

Purdue civil engineering professor Ayhan Irfanoglu says his relatives in Turkey also are safe. As a native Turk, his heart aches personally for those living in the country. And as a structural engineer, he understands the technical steps in design, construction and code enforcement that can be taken to minimize the damage of a natural disaster and to save lives.

“The people of Turkey, those who have survived, are still in a state of shock. But from these catastrophes, you also see the goodness of people coming out,” says Irfanoglu, the associate head of civil engineering at Purdue, who will attend today’s student-led humanitarian event.

Irfanoglu has traveled to his native country numerous times following quakes since 1999. He hopes a team of engineers from Purdue and other universities can travel to Turkey in March.

This week’s quake is the worst in the region since 1999, when a magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck the western Turkish city of Izmit, killing more than 17,000 people. 

In the aftermath of that temblor, several Purdue engineers were dispatched as part of a U.S. team of experts who spent more than a month in Turkey during the summer of 2000. Joining that reconnaissance team, coordinated by the late distinguished civil engineering professor Mete Sozen at Purdue, were several current civil engineering professors including Julio Ramirez, Antonio Bobet and Robert Frosch.

Ramirez, who has led two post-quake teams of structural engineers to Turkey since 1999, applauds efforts by the students to rally the Purdue community to respond to the humanitarian needs in this tragedy’s aftermath. And as the 12 million residents in that part of Turkey move from rescue to recovery and eventually rebuilding their lives and property.

“We need to find ways to address the three primary factors — the vulnerability of buildings, preparedness or education, and economics — that can turn a natural disaster into a major catastrophe with thousands of lives lost,” Ramirez says. “This is not a new problem, but it is a major societal challenge for the people of Turkey and other nations around the world facing the threat of natural hazards.”

Professor Frosch, vice provost for academic facilities at Purdue who has over 20 years of experience developing structural concrete building codes, said Turkey has made great progress in earthquake-resistant construction over the years.

“Engineers in Turkey are fantastic, some of the best in the world,” he says. “Unfortunately, there are buildings that are constructed poorly and not consistent with current building codes. Of course, there are many older structures, too.”

This week’s quake had the same magnitude as one that killed about 30,000 people in December 1939 in northeast Turkey, the highest death toll of the 33 major earthquakes in Turkey that century.

“We need to focus on ways to minimize the vulnerability of buildings so we can save lives,” Irfanoglu says.

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, pfiorini@purdue.edu

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