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By Elijah Robinson
Kindness and charity has the power to change people’s lives. In wake of the devastating Turkey-Syria earthquake that took place in February, former Lewiston salon owner Semir Huzmeli felt he could not just stay here and witness the suffering of his family and community overseas.
On Feb. 6, Huzmeli and his son were coming home from a soccer game when he got word from friends that an earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.8, struck in his home country in Turkey. His old neighborhood in Samandağ, in the city of Antakya, was among the areas that was hit the hardest.
When he was told, he said he instantly wanted to know if his parents were OK. Huzmeli said he couldn’t get in contact with his brother and sister who lived in the area. He explained he couldn’t sleep after hearing the news about the earthquake. It was after a few days of restless nights that he decided to get a plane ticket at the last minute and go back home.
“I couldn’t just stay here and watch the news,” Huzmeli said.
He described the journey to his hometown, as he traveled from Istanbul to the affected area where his family resides, as scary and emotional.
“When I get there, I start to get a little bit stronger,” Huzmeli said.
Once he finally arrived, Huzmeli described the area as a war zone. His parents’ house was dilapidated, and the community had tents set up for shelter after the houses were destroyed. People were only able to wash up once a week in tents, and water had to be heated by wood.
This is what Huzmeli saw, but he said he couldn’t imagine the suffering his family and others endured when everything began to topple.
Huzmeli said his sister-in-law escaped from her house at the last minute, before her house collapsed. He was relieved to see that his siblings and parents were alive, saying he would not know how to live if he lost them. His aunt and 35 members of his family died in the earthquake, along with friends and neighbors who were killed.
“Thank God my brother, sister survived, (and) my parents,” he said. “A house can be built … but you can’t bring people back.”
Semir Huzmeli and his sister-in-law, Funda. (Submitted photo)
Based on Huzmeli’s account, everything was chaos, and everyone was trying to save their lives. In the middle of that, Huzmeli saw the community come together. He saw neighbors milk cows to bring milk to each other, and share what was left of their belongings to help others get by. He also witnessed people try to dig people out of the rubble with their bare hands.
Huzmeli explained that concerned, determined people could only do so much with just their hands.
“Some people will hear somebody’s alive, but … some people just left them to die because there is no machine,” he said.
Knowing that his parents and siblings were alive, Huzmeli thought it was right to help others, and help them find their families. He decided to take part in rescue efforts and help people take care of each other, help clean up the rubble, and provide hope and comfort to anyone who needed it.
Huzmeli said he helped maintain the tents, handed out flashlights and made food for the people there. He stayed there for one month, and there were times where the carnage and destruction got overwhelming.
“Everybody’s mentally not there. Everybody looks like a zombie, including me. I was walking (like) I don’t know where I’m going,” Huzmeli said. “You say ‘That person die. Oh yeah?’ And you walk away. Like, ‘So what.’ I’ve heard it enough.”
While it was a time of sadness and struggle, Huzmeli said it made him happy to be next to his family and community, to help others in the middle of the catastrophe, and to see that they’re safe.
“I laugh with the kids, I laugh with the ladies, I try to make them (feel like) everything will be OK,” he said. “When I see them strong … I get strong also.”
After he returned home, Huzmeli set up a GoFundMe drive, as well as a small piggy bank in his hair salon to help raise funds for the families that have been affected by the tragedy in Turkey.
If you’d like to donate to the cause, here is a link that directs to the GoFundMe page: https://gofund.me/078c19fc.