‘Thank God I’m still alive’

Port native Lynn Trepel Caglar’s home in Istanbul is many miles from earthquake’s epicenter but she is witness to a country in shock over the loss of thousands of lives

PORT WASHINGTON NATIVE Lynn Trepel Caglar (back row, center) was flanked by her son Ates and his wife Marion Caglar, (sitting, from left) her daughter Yasemin Caglar, grandson Cem, husband Atila and grandchildren Alp and Karolin Su in their home in Istanbul before the recent earthquakes hit Turkey. A post sent by Trepel Caglar (below) shows the market street in Antaka before and after the Feb. 6 earthquake. Photos courtesy of Lynn Trepel Caglar
Ozaukee Press staff

Recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have left Port Washington native Lynn Trepel Caglar counting her blessings.

“You learn to value the small things in your life,” Trepel Caglar, who has lived in Istanbul for about 40 years, said last week. “When you feel or experience something like this, you wake up everyday and think, ‘Thank God I’m living and healthy.’

“It’s so sad so many have died, and we know it will be more. Over 10,000 buildings were destroyed.”

While Istanbul is about 700 miles from the area where two strong earthquakes struck on Feb. 6, killing an estimated 43,000 people and injuring many more — two more earthquakes hit the area this week — everyone in the country has been affected by the disaster, Trepel Caglar said.

It seems everyone knows someone impacted by the quakes.

A friend of hers was in the area when the first earthquake, rated 7.8 on the Richter scale, struck at 4:17 a.m., she said.

“She told me fortunately her building where she was staying was very strong and it was not destroyed,” Trepel Caglar said.

Eight hours later, her friend went to visit a cousin when the second quake, rated 7.5, struck.

Trepel Caglar said she had heard of a young man, a physical trainer, whose father lives in Hatay in southeastern Turkey. His father was badly injured in the first quake and taken to the hospital. When the second earthquake struck, she said, “the hospital collapsed and his father died because everyone in the hospital died.”

After the quakes, she said, “everyone  was in deep shock, and we still are, living with this 24 hours a day. Many, many messages are seen on social media from people who cannot find their loved ones.”

While the chance of finding anyone alive faded after a few days, she said, “believe it or not, today, the 10th day, a 12-year-old child was dug out of the ruins.”

After the earthquakes, Trepel Caglar said, the call went out for people to send blankets, jackets, baby clothes, hygiene products, heaters and food to the affected areas. Many of the country’s nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) went to distribute them, but had trouble accessing the areas most affected.

“Many of the roads, you can see they were opened up. It was so deep it looks like it’s a cavern,” she said. “The airport was destroyed so how could you get to this place? It’s a big problem.”

In an earthquake, she said, it’s important to respond within the first two days, but most agencies couldn’t get in until late night on the second day or the third day.

“But they have had good results,” she said, noting more than 105,000 people were saved.

“As of now (Feb. 15), 35,000 people have died and some 1,120 children are unclaimed. They’re probably babies and young children whose families did not survive.”

People who survived are living in tent cities in temperatures that are below zero, she said.

“These people without any homes were out on the streets the first couple days. They didn’t have tents or anything,” Trepel Caglar said. “They tried to stay in their cars.”

And living in situations without electricity, running water or toilet facilities causes dangerous health situations, she said.

“Now, a week later, some of these people have found ways to get to other cities in Turkey,” she said. “I got messages yesterday of two or three families in an apartment in Istanbul, living together, they need help. They have nothing.”

But, she said, the people of Turkey are “extremely generous. They’re very giving, very generous, they are ready to help others all the time. It’s part of their culture. When there’s a disaster like this, they drop everything. No matter how poor they are, they try to help as much as they can.”

One news report showed a blue jacket someone had donated for a baby. Inside the jacket was a note from the donor pledging “whoever wears this jacket, I would like to help this child for a lifetime,” she said.

The government, Trepel Caglar said, was unprepared and “extremely slow” to react.

So the NGOs took over, as well as university students who helped bring donations to the Anatolian region where the quake hit.

“This is only the beginning,” Trepel Caglar said. “We all know that. For example, the City of Hatay, they say it is totally destroyed. They say it looks like a city after World War II, like Berlin did. They even think maybe you can’t build up a city like that again.

It’s not just the Turkish people who are affected, Trepel Caglar said, noting there are many Syrians who fled their country’s civil war and were living in the area.

The quakes, Trepel Caglar said, destroyed an area 62 miles long, where 10 cities were located along the fault line.

It’s an area rich with historically significant sites, filled with evidence of the Byzantine and Roman cultures that flourished long ago.

“You would go there to see the historic sites, the fortresses, the castles, the churches, the mosques,” Trepel Caglar said, noting she and her husband Atila visited the area last year.

Now, she said, many of those buildings have been destroyed.

Trepel Caglar said people are particularly angered by the fact they were told that many of today’s buildings would withstand these natural disasters.

“This is what everybody’s so mad about,” she said, noting that after a strong earthquake in 1999 the government imposed building codes requiring stronger materials and designs that were to be inspected by the government.

“Obviously this wasn’t the case,” she said. “We saw pictures of new buildings that had signs outside saying this is a building that is safe against any earthquake, and they were totally demolished. A hospital in Hatay built four years ago — a hospital — was destroyed completely.

“People are angry and furious at the contractors who did this to make money and at inspectors from the government who said it was quality.”

Many of her friends, she said, have now moved out of buildings they thought were safe.

For Trepel Caglar, the earthquakes brought back memories of the 1999 earthquake, which she experienced.

“I will not forget it for my lifetime,” she said. “It lasted a minute, and I was there in my house with my children. When it happened, it was like this huge motor-like noise from under the earth, and I thought, ‘It sounds like the world is ending.’

“You want to run out of the building. The problem is the earth shakes so badly and the floors shake so badly that you can’t run out. You just have to pray you’re in a good building and if it does collapse you’re in a position to protect yourself.”

Trepel Caglar is a 1969 graduate of Port Washington High School who earned a bachelor’s degree from Lawrence University and a master’s degree from Northwestern University. She went to Berlin for post-graduate studies at the Berlin University of the Arts, then sang opera in Germany for five years before joining the Istanbul State Opera House for 32 years.

She sang until she was 65, then retired but still teaches voice and opera at a university in Istanbul.

While in Germany, she met her husband Atila. The couple have two children and three grandchildren.

“I feel very blessed,” she said. “Many American friends of mine are very generous and have called, wanting to know if we’re all right.”



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