BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – The grim numbers are still being tallied in the wake of Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake centered near the border region of Turkey and Syria. The deaths are expected to far exceed the current count of nearly 12,000 and now we’re learning just how far the grief will spread.
The earthquake and its continuing, violent aftershocks have touched Bakersfield, home of Turkish immigrant Mervan Ergun, who lost 11 family members. Ergun, a 41-year-old retail worker, left Tuesday afternoon for his hometown – Antakya, an ancient border city referred to in the Bible as Antioch. He is bracing himself for what he expects to find.
“No buildings, nothing, down, all of them, nothing,” he said. “Nothing left.”
Ergun – who has lived in Bakersfield for 13 years – will fly to Frankfurt, Germany, then to Istanbul, then to the city of Adana, which has the closest functioning airport. He then hopes to travel across blockaded roads with rescue teams to Antakya, the main city in a province of 2 million that is closer to the devastated Syrian capital of Aleppo than any of Turkey’s major cities.
He will bring as many aid supplies as he possibly can, including burial bags and interment cloth acquired from a local mosque with which he will dress his family members – if and when those family members can be located under the rubble of 10-, 7- and 4-story apartment buildings. Ergun lost his mother and his youngest sister, whose bodies have been recovered, as well as another sister, her husband and their three children, and a brother, his wife and their two children.
“My brother and his family and my sister and her family, are dead under the ground,” he said.
He now must coordinate the care of his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and two vision-impaired brothers, one of whom has special needs. His mother had been caring for them all. At least he will be able to claim her body.
“I don’t know, maybe I will be able to go over there and see her and I’ll give her my last hug and my last present to her,” he said.
Thousands of buildings collapsed in the two countries, whose border is also a demarcation between Europe and Asia. Aid agencies are warning of “catastrophic” repercussions in northwest Syria, where millions of vulnerable and displaced people were already relying on humanitarian support.
The earthquake, one of the most powerful to hit the region in a century, was centered near the Turkish city of Nurdagi, about 80 miles northeast of Ergun’s home.
Ergun thinks he may need to remain in Turkey for as long as a year, away from his two sons in Bakersfield, as the region digs out from the devastation.
“We need to be strong now. Nothing (else) we can do,” he said.
One of his first orders of business, after he retrieves his relatives’ bodies, will be to arrange burial on the ranchland where they grew up surrounded by olive trees.
If you would like to help Marvan Ergun with expenses associated with his somber mission, you can donate to his Go Fund Me by clicking here.