Canada is still determining how to best help those affected by the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.
Turkey and Syria were rocked Monday by the massive quake, setting off international aid efforts that now include a $10-million commitment from the Canadian government and search and rescue teams being flown in from the United States.
Trudeau said Canada is considering how it can provide support in the best way.
“From the very beginning we’ve been talking with our diplomatic staff, our counterparts over there, working with the international community on getting as much help as needed the right way,” Trudeau said.
“We are there to help, we’re just looking at how to best do it.”
Ottawa will also match funds donated to Red Cross relief efforts up to $10-million, he announced.
Defence Minister Anita Anand said late Tuesday that the federal government has not ruled out sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, to help with the recovery effort.
“All options are being considered. And from a defence perspective, we certainly are looking to (DART) as an option,” she said. “But I will say that there are a number of possible routes here, and we just want to make sure that what we do provide is useful.”
The earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria became one of the deadliest quakes worldwide in more than a decade Wednesday as the death toll surpassed 11,000 and kept rising.
Trudeau said many Canadians have origins or family members in Turkey, “particularly all the Syrian refugees who have come to Canada over the past years to build a life who must be so worried about loved ones and families back home.”
In Vancouver, donations for those affected by the earthquake poured into a warehouse on Tuesday, but a volunteer organizer said the countries could most benefit from professional search and rescue teams.
“The next 72 hours is crucial,” said Cansoy Gurocak, who was one of dozens of volunteers dealing with donations of food, clothing, tents, sleeping bags, diapers and other goods in a fundraising event that was quickly co-ordinated by the Canadian Turkish Educational and Cultural Foundation.
The donated goods were to be sent via a direct Turkish Airlines flight from Vancouver to Istanbul scheduled every two days.
Gurocak, who’s been in Canada for 13 years, said he first heard the news in a call from his mother in Turkey just after the quake.
“She told me this is one of the strongest ones that she has ever experienced in her life,” he said. “I called my uncle. He said that his house is destroyed. I called my aunt, same situation.”
Gurocak said he was grateful to hear the Canadian government has committed to providing $10 million for relief efforts, but professional search and rescue personnel on the ground would make a more immediate impact.
Search teams from more than two dozen countries have joined tens of thousands of local emergency personnel on the ground in Syria and Turkey.
But the scale of destruction from the earthquake and its powerful aftershocks was so immense and spread over such a wide area, including places isolated by Syria’s ongoing civil war, that many people were still awaiting help.
Experts said the survival window for those trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings or otherwise unable to access water, food, protection from the elements or medical attention was closing rapidly. At the same time, they said it was too soon to abandon hope for more rescues.
Gurocak said that after search and rescue efforts, the next crucial step is building shelter for those displaced by the quake, then distributing donations of food and clothing.
To rebuild in the most hard-hit areas like the towns of Islahiye and Pazarcik, Gurocak said, “it will take years, not days, not weeks, not months.”
But rescue efforts in smaller villages are all the more difficult with road infrastructure damaged or destroyed in the quake, while cold weather makes life more miserable for survivors, Gurocak said.
“Time is our enemy at the moment,” he said.
Gurocak said his thoughts remain with his friends and relatives back in Turkey.
“If they have nowhere to go or if they have family members under the collapsed building, they have to stay because they have hope that they can survive and rescue the people,” he said.