The cleanup of the wreckage of a collapsed building, Diyarbakır, Turkey. Credit: Voice of America

The last several days have been devastating for Ahmet Turkmen and his wife Nurten, a Turkish family living in Wisconsin.

Turkmen’s nephew, Yasin Turkmen, 58, lives in Antakya, Turkey, a city in the heart of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that destroyed huge swaths of the country and neighboring Syria on February 6. As of Friday morning, the quake’s death toll had reached 41,732 fatalities in both countries, where rescuers continue to search for survivors more than a week after the disaster struck.

“The city is upside down,” said Turkmen, a 60-year-old Menominee resident who thinks of Yasin as a brother.

Yasin lived on the top floor of a six-floor apartment building with his wife, two sons, and a daughter. The details are fuzzy to Turkmen, but he said Yasin ended up in a stairwell searching for an escape route when the earthquake struck. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the family remained on the sixth floor. The building crumbled to the ground with the family on top, but they somehow survived with minor injuries, Turkmen said. 

Yasin, on the other hand, became trapped in a stairwell and was found dead nine days later. Turkmen’s father-in-law also died in the earthquake, and was found buried under rubble two days before Yasin was recovered.

“I’ve been talking to relatives that are safe and alive. We help each other feel better,” Turkmen said. “Also, we have a very large Turkish community in Minnesota. We share our sorrow and they’re trying to help us.”

Turkmen is turning his grief to action. The engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout is a member of the Turkish American Society of Minnesota that is raising funds for victims of the earthquake. Other local Turkish families also have relatives affected by the disaster. 

The Turkish American Society of Minnesota hosted a vigil on February 11 with local faith leaders. Tolga Misirli, the association’s executive director, said about 150 people attended.

“It was so diverse in terms of the speakers and prayers,” Misirli said. “It was a healing session for us. I felt better after the vigil. I realized I am not alone.”

The earthquake struck southeast Turkey and northwest Syria. Rescue teams continue to find survivors under the rubble. Millions of survivors are in need of humanitarian aid; many left the earthquake’s epicenter to find housing and start new lives in cities like Istanbul and Ankara. 

Several relief efforts are underway in Minnesota to help survivors rebuild their lives. Here’s how you can contribute:

Financial donations to Turkish American Society of Minnesota

The Turkish American Society of Minnesota, a cultural nonprofit based in Fridley, is collecting financial donations. Last week, the group held a supply drive and filled two trucks with emergency items. One truck was shipped to Turkey, and the other to Syria. The group is no longer accepting emergency supplies.

“We were watching the news for hours a day,” said Misirli, the association’s executive director. “The Turkish Americans here, we cried together with our friends.”

The Turkish American Society of Minnesota collected emergency supplies to donate to Turkish and Syrian victims of the February 6 earthquake. Credit: Tolga Misirli | Turkish American Society of Minnesota

The group will send donations to its network in Turkey to help survivors find housing. 

Sunday bake sale

The Turkish American Society of Minnesota will also hold a bake sale with Turkish foods on Sunday to raise money. Financial donations will also be accepted at the event.

What: Earthquake relief bake sale

Where: The Turkish American Society of Minnesota community center, 6565 Oakley Drive N.E., Fridley, Minnesota.

When: Sunday, February 19, from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.

St. Paul boutique donates profits

Petek Trading Co., a Turkish-owned shop in downtown St. Paul, is hosting a Turkish tea party and fundraiser on February 25 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The shop, which sells traditional Turkish handicrafts, is also donating 20 percent of its sales to non-governmental organizations in Turkey. 

The shop is located at 24 W 7th Place in St. Paul, and also sells its merchandise online.

“I’m truly grateful that my family is alive and well,” the store’s owner, Melek Petek, said on Facebook. “Still, thousands of people are waiting to be rescued in harsh winter conditions, and have experienced devastating losses.”

Donate directly to families in the Midwest supporting relatives back home

Emily Kisa of Wayzata is collecting donations on GoFundMe for her family in Adiyaman, Turkey, where her husband’s father died in the earthquake. Her father-in-law’s four sisters, their children, and grandchild have all lost their homes. Donations will go towards food, burial, heating, gasoline, and relocation costs.

Turkmen, the professor from Wisconsin, is collecting donations on GoFundMe to support his extended family members as they move out of his hometown of Antakya, Turkey, to seek refuge in Istanbul and Ankara. He’s leaned on support from the larger Turkish community in the Twin Cities, since the Turkish community in Menominee is small. 

Two Turkish students at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menominee, Meryem and Amber Ozdemir, are also collecting donations. Their immediate family members are alive, but have lost their homes and are struggling to access food, medicine, and shelter in harsh winter weather.

If you are collecting donations for survivors of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, contact to have your fundraiser included in this story.

Other organizations providing relief

The American Red Cross and Red Crescent teams in Turkey and Syria are providing on-the-ground support by distributing food and supplies. They are accepting donations through mail. 

The organization is asking donors to write “Turkey earthquake” in the memo line of their checks, complete a donation form, and mail both the check and form to their local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross at PO Box 37839 Boone, Iowa, 50037-0839.

The American Red Cross advises U.S. citizens with family who are U.S. citizens missing in Turkey or Syria to contact the U.S. Department of State Overseas Citizens Services Office online or at 1-888-407-4747. 

The Turkish Red Crescent can also help search for missing loved ones, and advises people seeking help to contact the Turkish Red Crescent at 

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent encourages people with loved ones missing in Syria to contact the following phone numbers in different Syrian cities:

  • Aleppo: +963 (0)950000822
  • Hama: +983 (0)9950000824
  • Latakia: +963 (0)950000827
  • Tartus: +963 (0)950000928

Embrace Relief is a nonprofit organization based in New Jersey that delivers humanitarian aid and disaster relief. The organization is collecting donations to meet survivors’ immediate needs.

Islamic Relief USA is accepting donations to provide emergency aid and long-term support to survivors. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Hibah Ansari is a reporter for Sahan Journal covering immigration and politics. She was named the 2022 Young Journalist of the Year by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. She’s a graduate...