GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Twenty members of a West Michigan doctor’s family are among the more than 35,000 killed in the earthquakes that leveled parts of Turkey and Syria.
Still, a week after the earthquakes, the family of Dr. Hussam Shakar, of Grand Rapids, continues to hope rescuers can find his cousin alive in the rubble that trapped her.
Shakar, a medical director of epilepsy at Trinity Health in Grand Rapids, said his sister called him from Syria on Feb. 6, the day of the earthquake.
“She was screaming and crying and I did not know what was going on. I was putting my kids to sleep,” he said. “She was saying, ‘They are in the street,’ and I hear people screaming.”
The earthquakes — 7.8- and 7.5-magnitude — are being called the worst natural disaster to hit the region in a century.
The number of dead continues to grow.
“Unfortunately I have two first cousins who passed away, and each one of them, one had two kids and one had three kids,” he said.
The five children died and so did the mother of three of them, Shakar explained. All eight were in the same collapsed building in the city of Antakya in the Hatay province.
“On my mother’s side, also she had one complete family, 12 members passed away, my mother’s cousins,” he said.
A relative sent him a video of the rubble that still traps another cousin.
“The chance is very low after seven days, but hope still,” he said. “Today they found like two or three people still alive, so it gives us hope.”
Many of his family members had moved to Turkey to escape war in Syria over the last decade or so.
“They started a new life in south Turkey; they started to learn the language. Most of them, they lived together,” he explained.
Some also settled in northern Syria, also hit hard by the earthquake. Some were living in tents.
“I was talking to one of my cousins, ‘Are you ok?’ and he was slowly answering me, ‘Yeah I’m OK. Thank God I live in a tent,'” he said.
A week after the earthquakes, he and his wife mourn their family’s losses from thousands of miles away. They are frustrated by the slow response of aid to Syria.
“We cry most of the time, honestly,” he said. “Even (in) our office in the clinic, I lock the door. I cry. But, it’s not enough.”
He said he and other doctors have raised $15,000 in Grand Rapids, sending it to groups that are helping, including the Syrian American Medical Society and a humanitarian group known as White Helmets.
“I feel like it’s a separate world here,” he said. “In the media, I did not see enough, or sufficient information about what’s going on. Most people in my hospital when I talked to them they were surprised about the extent of the damage that happened.”
“People here are willing to help. People are willing to participate, to send even a blanket. If something can help a kid to sleep,” he said. “They need shelter, they need food, they need heat.”
Shakar says those who want to help can give to Syrian American Medical Society or the White Helmets.