After living through Turkey's devastating earthquakes, couple arrives in Michigan
In February, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastated parts of Turkey and Northern Syria. More than 50,000 people died. Millions saw their homes destroyed. There have been thousands of aftershocks and they’re still hitting the region today.
The efforts to clean up and begin the long process of rebuilding have been slow.
Colleen Karsnick is originally from Fowlerville, Michigan. Her husband, Allaittin Pasa is from Hatay Province in Turkey. They’d been living there, near his family, since 2020. After the initial quakes, Karsnick and Pasa spoke with Michigan Radio's Morning Edition from Turkey.
A 6.3 magnitude quake had hit two weeks after the first quake. Karnsnick described that moment.
“It 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.”
The couple was in the process of moving to the U.S. when the earthquakes hit. After some delays, they recently arrived in Michigan. They came to Michigan Radio's studios in Ann Arbor to share an update.
Not much has changed
Like many people in Hatay Province, Karsnick and Pasa had been living in a tent because the aftershocks made it feel unsafe to be inside.
"I would love to say, 'Oh my God, everything's changed. And the government came in and helped and everybody has housing and we have clean water.' But I can't," Karsnick said. "It is pretty much the same. Allaitin's family is all there. Unfortunately, they're still in tents. There's still brown water. The government hasn't done a thing."
"I would love to say, 'Oh my God, everything's changed. And the government came in and helped and everybody has housing and we have clean water.'
But I can't."Colleen Karsnick
The change in seasons has brought a change in needs.
"It's summer now and it's in the 90's and people have no water and they're living in the plastic tents which get really hot. Also, when the earthquakes happened, it was winter time, so all the donations that came in were warm clothes. So everybody, they need summer clothes now. They're all wearing their winter clothes now because that's all they have," she said.
Pasa is frustrated by the Turkish government's response or lack thereof.
"We had the [presidential] election in May, so the government just forget about what happened in the earthquake. They started on for the campaigns. So [President Recep Tayyip Erdogan] promised to the people in Hatay new houses. 'I'm going to give you a place you [can] have to live.' But in the end, he become the president again [winning reelection]. The tax grows, the prices grows."
And Karsnick said it appears that the promise of free housing won't be fulfilled.
"They're not giving houses. They're charging for houses saying, 'We will get you a house if you want to pay for it.' People have no jobs," she said.
Getting to Michigan
Karsnick and Pasa are married, and had been in the process of moving to the United States when the quakes struck. Karsnick said the estimated timeline for a spousal visa was 7 to 12 months. They had been waiting 18 months because the COVID-19 pandemic caused an immigration backlog.
"My aunt, Darlene Dominic, is friends with [Michigan] Congresswoman [Elissa] Slotkin. She had gotten some women out of Argentina because they were in danger. So [my aunt] said, 'Let me call her and we'll see what we can do, see if we can expedite this process," Karsnick said. "[Slotkin] was instrumental in getting the interview expedited, and we only had to wait like a month — where there's a backlog for months — to get an interview."
The couple is now living in Karsnick's sister's basement in Perry. Pasa used to work for a cruise line company. He has visited the U.S. before, but this is his first time in Michigan. He welcomes the change.
"It's going great, actually. I do really appreciate her sister. It's nice to be here very far from the earthquake," he said.
They say they're looking for jobs and then will decide where to live long-term.
Spreading the word about need
In March, Karsnick told Michigan Radio that people in Hatay Province needed "just anything to not feel forgotten about."
She says the people there still feel forgotten today.
"[I]f you talk about the earthquake in Turkey, everyone knows about it. Here [in the U.S.], no one seems to even know an earthquake happened. And I'm like, it's killed [almost] 60,000 people and millions of people were displaced from their homes and jobs and cars, and, [are] still waiting for family members that are buried in buildings," she said.
"There's earthquakes that still happen every single day all in that area. And I'm sitting here sending this [information] to my aunt, and she's like, 'We don't know anything about this [in Michigan.] Five magnitude is what we're seeing."
Having been through countless aftershocks in the past few months, the couple both had a sense of constant stress in Turkey.
"Downtown Hatay is just nothing. Dust. It's just dust."Alaittin Pasa
"I mean [this] is something you can't see it, you know, it's just like suddenly you feel the shaking. So, in the meantime you panic. You don't know what you do," Pasa said.
And they don't even recognize the places that were once so familiar.
"Downtown Hatay is just nothing. Dust. It's just dust," he said.
"If you drove to Detroit now and you see all the buildings, all the congestion, all the people, all the cars, and then all of a sudden tomorrow, there's nothing. There's no cars, there's no people. The buildings are empty and there's nothing there," Karsnick added.
"It looks like a war zone. I keep saying we look at pictures of the Hatay area and Ukraine. It's really hard to tell the difference between the the war zone-bombing buildings and the Hatay-earthquake buildings."
When asked what people back in Hatay may need, the list is filled with basics.
"First of all, they need a place to stay. Now it's summer. There is a lot of insects, bugs, snakes," Pasa said.
Karsnick added other critical items.
"They need water. They need clothes. They need food. And hopefully it gets to the people that need it."
After the earthquakes first struck, the group Charity Navigator complied a list of organizations with high ratings in its system that had been providing relief and aid services in Turkey and Syria. You can find that list here.
Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the complete interview near the top of this page.