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Awaiting word on relatives in Turkey

by Christina Nelson

A week ago, my family and I flipped between every news channel looking for more information about the earthquake in Turkey. Still worried in the morning, I woke up early to catch the updates on headline news.

Initial reports said Bursa, a city of about 1 million residents, 50 miles from the epicenter, was one of the hardest hit towns – along with Istanbul and Izmit. As we would find out later, Bursa escaped with less damage than expected.

One week later, the number of people dead or not found yet is larger than the population of Douglas County. It’s hard to imagine that amount of destruction here, but the possibility of an earthquake of that magnitude remains.

Though so far from home, the earthquake shook me more than just my reaction to seeing the makeshift camps and mass graves on television. Two members of my family, Akin and Emel Orhun, my uncle and my cousin, are in Bursa visiting relatives.

I couldn’t concentrate at work that day until I got a call from my mom saying they were OK. They had left a message on my aunt’s answering machine the night before, and reported that all family members survived without a scratch.

Emel – my cousin who is almost like a sister to me – actually slept through most of the quake, thinking it was part of a dream.

“I really honestly didn’t think it was that bad,” she said from her grandmother’s home in Bursa on Tuesday. But after returning home to Bursa from a resort town 30 miles from the epicenter, she watched news reports and couldn’t believe all of the damage.

Akin and Emel, who are from Vacaville, Calif., haven’t seen too much of the devastation but they know it’s all around them.

“It’s just helplessness,” Akin said Tuesday. “You feel it’s beyond your control. You just simply go with the flow.”

Akin and Emel have had more than their fair share of bad luck on this trip. They’re enduring Turkey’s first heat wave in almost 30 years and while shopping recently in the Bursa’s covered bazaar, a heavy rain and lightning storm caused a flood in the shopping area.

Bursa is an ancient city of contrasts, filled with people talking on cell phones and rushing to work, mixed with others taking walks or lounging at outdoor cafes.

I didn’t know what to expect when I visited the city four years ago. But I found that Turkish people are very accepting of other cultures, even though some people are not as accepting of theirs. There were many times when they could have made fun of me when I stumbled on the few Turkish words I’d learned. But they were just happy I was trying to learn their language.

We visited different mosques in Bursa and Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Luckily, they were not damaged in the earthquake because I’ve never seen anything in the United States that can compare to these structures.

In Bursa, new buildings are dispersed between old. The buildings that survived the quake were surprisingly the old ones. The new buildings were taller and built on inadequate foundations or built with concrete mixed with sand.

None of the structures is very tall; most are around four or five stories, some of the newer ones are eight stories.

Akin and Emel were jolted by the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and said it didn’t compare to Turkey’s quake.

“I knew it was strong, but I never expected it would cause so much damage,” Akin said.