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The earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria has impacted a community in New Jersey


The powerful earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria on Monday has impacted communities around the world. The city of Paterson, N.J., is home to the largest community of Turkish immigrants in the United States. It also has a strong Syrian presence. Many residents have lost loved ones and are missing family members. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: When Nikola Dogum (ph) first heard the news, he thought, it has to be a mistake. People were saying a 7.8 earthquake had hit south Turkey, where he's from, and Syria. Then the phone rang. It was his brother-in-law.

NIKOLA DOGUM: He's calling us. What's up? And he's under building.

GARSD: He said he was buried under seven collapsed floors.

DOGUM: He tell us, please tell my brother to come help me. Please.

GARSD: But Nikola Dogum was over 5,000 miles away in Paterson, N.J., where he says he felt helpless and terrified. That's how a lot of folks here feel right now.

DERYA TASKIN: Paterson has been quiet for the last three or four days.

GARSD: Derya Taskin's family owns a Turkish bakery. She says the vibrant community of Paterson has spent the last week seesawing between hope and despair.

TASKIN: You know, one moment you get happy because 5-year-old girl was saved, so everyone cheers up. And then you see other things that's been pulled out from the rubble, and everyone starts crying.

GARSD: She's especially worried about anyone under the rubble who might still be alive. Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, who is himself Syrian American, says as soon as he heard the news, he immediately jumped into action.

ANDRE SAYEGH: I called the Turkish ambassador, and I called the consul general from Turkey, and they both echoed the same sentiment. We need search and rescue help.

GARSD: President Biden recently pledged to aid rescue efforts. Sayegh says the community is also coming together to send essential goods.

SAYEGH: We are starting to develop different pipelines to get clothing or whatever it may be there to Turkey. It's cold in Turkey. So they're getting clothing for children, clothing for adults.


GARSD: A local barber shop called Palestinian Hair (ph) is one of the points of organization.

RAED ODEH: (Non-English language spoken).

SAYEGH: Sami (ph).


ODEH: (Non-English language spoken). Oh, my God. Sami.

GARSD: Barber Raed Odeh is the deputy mayor. He says they've been working with local mosques and community organizations. They're also in talks with local merchants and shipping companies to get clothes and baby formula out there as quickly as possible.

ODEH: Yesterday, we were at one of those warehouses where they ship, trying to figure out how we can do all these runs and try to get things over there as soon as possible.

GARSD: But some in Paterson worry it won't be enough. Nikola Dogum says he's concerned about Syria, where part of his family is from. Syria has already been through years of conflict, and aid may move in slower due to sanctions. Dogum says he's not waiting for that aid to arrive for his mother and sister, who are now homeless in the middle of winter.

DOGUM: My sister over there. My mom over there. My mom - she's OK. My sister, OK. They was - sleep on - in the car. They can't go inside. No house. No more. No more.

GARSD: He's told his mom and sister he'd like to bring them to the U.S. He says he himself can't go back - not right now. It hurts too much.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Paterson, N.J.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRISMA SONG, "DARDUST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 13, 2023 at 9:00 PM PST
A previous web introduction to this report misspelled Paterson, N.J., as Patterson.
Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.