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Metro Atlanta residents grapple with earthquake's devastating toll on their loved ones
More than 10 days since the catastrophic earthquake in Syria and Turkey, local communities are hustling to raise money and collect items for their families back home.
It’s been more than 10 days since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Syria and Turkey, but Loganville resident Mouaz Ghouthami knows he’ll be feeling its impact for the rest of his life. His sister, aunt, and nephews live in earthquake hit regions in Turkey and northern Syria.
He didn’t realize the extent of the devastation until his mom, who lives in Jordan, called him in the middle of the night. “She said we lost this guy and this guy, this guy was saved in the hospital, your sister slept outside…” He couldn’t quite believe what she was telling him. “It was like a dream. It made me crazy.”
His family members are safe, though they lost their homes. But one of his friends, his sister told him, lost his son, daughter, and wife. “He woke up in the hospital and people asked him what happened and he said I don’t know.” Mouaz has reached out to him but he hasn’t responded. “I sent him a text and I said I'm sorry. If you need any help we are ready.”
The death toll from the quake has surpassed 40,000, in Syria and Turkey, and search and rescue teams are continuing to pull survivors from the rubble. Aid is coming into both countries, but in opposition controlled northern Syria, it hasn’t been straightforward.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 Syrians live in Georgia, according to estimates from the American Community Survey. Many of the Syrian refugees who have resettled here have family in northern Syria and Turkey - where the earthquake hit the hardest - says Emad Sabbah, the co-founder of Ethaar, a refugee and immigrant support organization in metro Atlanta.
Among them is a Clarkston resident he spoke to who lost 25 members of his family. “He was in shock… the whole building where his family members lived collapsed.”
Mohamed Alo, a GSU student and assistant at a pharmacy in Smyrna, also has family in northern Syria. “It’s hard, being here, and seeing everything happening over there. If I wasn’t here, I would be living through this moment over there,” he said.
“Imagine the city you grew [up] in and you spent your childhood in… how it went from a very beautiful place to what is going on now,” said Alo, who moved to metro Atlanta with his parents and brother in 2018.
Since he left, he’s watched the country suffer through war, an economic collapse, and now this - “God knows what else is gonna happen.”
In the immediate days after the earthquake, his mother was awake from 2 to 6 in the morning, communicating with his grandmother, who lives in northern Syria, via Whatsapp audio messages. “Everybody was nervous,” he said. They’ve had to flee their homes, but still, they were lucky. Nobody was injured or killed.
In the past week, community groups, mosques, nonprofits, and individuals across metro Atlanta have been raising money and collecting donations. They’ve been asking for winter clothes and medical equipment. The challenge, says Imam Arshad Anwar of Masjid Jafar in Johns Creek, will be sustaining people’s concern and commitment to help.
“Media cycles change and soon this will not be front page news anymore. We know this will take years of support for the people to have any real chance at recovery,” said Anwar, who helped organize a donation drive in collaboration with a Turkish community member this past weekend.
For Alo, helping those in the country of his birth isn’t dependent on circumstance. It’s how he orients his entire life here.
“What you can give back to them?...It’s a blessing, the opportunity to be here gives you motivation. The best way to be grateful and thankful is to give back.”
Mouaz agrees. He’s been doing what he can. “For two days we called family, we called friends, we watched social media. After that me and my friend decided to make a group and collect money to send to them.” Here’s a link to the their fundraiser.
More local community members have shared these ways to help:
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