"Absolute destruction and fear." Couple with MI ties describes life in Turkey after earthquakes
Colleen Karsnick moved to Turkey in 2020, but she's originally from Fowlerville, Michigan. Her husband, Alaittin Pasa, is from Turkey's Hatay Province, where the couple lives today.
On February 6, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastated parts of Syria and Turkey, including the Hatay Province in southern Turkey. Several other earthquakes have hit the region since and more than 50,000 people have died.
Karsnick and Pasa had been in the process of trying to move to the United States when the earthquakes hit. They spoke with Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about what they've been through and the conditions in the province.
Doug Tribou: Alaittin, before we talk about how things are there now, could you describe Hatay province before the earthquakes? What's the region like? What do people do there? Just tell us a bit about that place.
Alaittin Pasa: It's a beautiful city and it's located in southern Turkey. It's a historical place. A lot of people want to visit it. And it was a beautiful place until the sixth of February. It was like a dream, you know? And I still can't believe that we have all this disaster happening.
Colleen Karsnick: It's very surreal. It's like what you see in a movie, like a really bad movie. That's what this is like. I compare it to a war zone, driving through Antakya or the other affected areas. It literally looks like a war zone.
DT: Colleen, multiple earthquakes have struck the region. Could you describe where you were when the first one hit and what went through your mind?
CK: The first one happened at 4:17 a.m. I was in bed. We run a market, and Alaittin had actually just come back from buying produce. So he had just gotten in bed, and I heard the shaking. I heard the wardrobe shaking and my perfume bottle hit the floor. And that's when I jumped out of bed and I grabbed him. And, it's funny now, but he got out of bed and he said, "Oh, it's an earthquake." Then he tried to get back in bed. So I'm like, "No, no, no, you gotta get up. You gotta get up."
The whole floor was shaking. The walls were shaking. It was hard to walk.
The February 20 earthquake was a lot closer to this area. That one was much more destructive and even more traumatizing than the first one. We were sitting in the living room when the loud bang — [it] sounded like a wrecking ball — hit the wall of our living room. And then we tried to get up and run out. It knocked everything out of our hands and slammed us to the ground repeatedly trying to get out of the building.
DT: You mentioned that things look like a war zone where you are, and the photos and videos from Turkey and Syria are almost incomprehensible. Could you describe a little bit more about the damage and what you're seeing day to day?
AP: Actually, we are not able to go to the downtown, but we have some videos taken by my sister [who] lives in the downtown.
CK: The buildings are just piles of dirt and rubble and dust. The buildings are leaning against each other or there's whole walls of a building that just drop away. You can see the cubes of the apartments, and the table and the chairs, and the beds, and things like that.
AP: It's like a nightmare, as Colleen mentioned. It's like I have been seen only on a movie. I have never, ever, ever thought that I'm going to see it in real life.
CK: I'm originally from Michigan. We have tornadoes in Michigan, and I've been through a bunch of tornadoes. I lived in Florida for four years. I've been through a bunch of hurricanes. Those don't even compare to the absolute destruction and fear that this instills in you for a long time. Tornadoes and hurricanes, they pass through. But you're not just waiting for the next one to come.
Here, we have earthquakes still every day. Still every day. It has been a month and they are still coming every day. And you never know if that next one that's coming is going to be that big one again. So even if there is a house that is safe to enter, we have such fear of being inside and being trapped and being killed. I haven't slept for a month.
DT: Where are you staying now and what are the conditions like there?
AP: I don't know how to describe it. We have a lack of water, electricity ... drinking water, showering. We are staying in the tent right now.
"[Y]ou never know if that next one that's coming is going to be that big one again. So even if there is a house that is safe to enter, we have such fear of being inside and being trapped and being killed."Colleen Karsnick
CK: We're actually [living] in front of Alaittin's mother and father's house. This is the only single story structure, so there's nothing above it and there's nothing below it. And there is not really that much damage. But we're afraid to go in it, so everybody kind of sleeps in tents in front of their houses.
DT: Well, as we mentioned, Colleen, you're originally from Michigan. Alaittin is from Turkey. How did you two meet?
Pasa: Well, I was working on a cruise line and she was on a cruise. No space to have met, you know. [laughs]
DT: [laughs] Close quarters.
AP: [laughing] Yeah. I never thought that we were going to get married. Things happen. We are happy here. And I'm happy to be married with her. And she's happy to be married with me.
DT: You applied for a visa for Alaittin to come to the U.S. so that you could both move here a long time ago. That's been delayed because of COVID, not so much because of the earthquake. So for the foreseeable future you're in Turkey awaiting the results of that visa application. In the meantime, what else do you want people here in Michigan to know about the situation there?
CT: Anything that we can do to feel less forgotten about over here because we still in this particular area, there's no government help. There's no government help for anybody, but there's no supplies coming here. There's no rescue workers.
We have brown water and the electricity... I think people here are used to not having electricity, so it doesn't really affect them so much. It's just anything to just not feel forgotten about.
Editor's note: Quotes have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.