Surviving Disaster

I know that in my last post, the first post in years, I talked about moving to the Philippines. Well, I haven’t moved yet. And there is still much work for me to do here. I am sure at this point, all of you have heard about the disaster that has devastated Southeast Turkiye. Some of you from England might even have seen me be interviewed on BBC or read a heavily edited version of my story in the Guardian. Well, now that a week has passed, I figured it is long past time for me to put my story down here.

A couple days before the earthquake, we had the first snowfall of the season. I took this picture on Friday morning, but it snowed every day since, so this is what my street would have looked like in the minutes just prior to 4:17 AM when that first earthquake struck. Obviously, I was sleeping at the time, but I went from asleep to instantly up and alert in a heartbeat. You could hear an incredibly loud rumbling almost like the sound of an avalanche and my building was very heavily rocking. I immediately went to the nearest doorframe because I don’t trust my plastic table to protect itself, let alone me. As I was standing there, I kept saying, “Oh Jesus. Jesus, I’m ready. I’m ready.” I honestly did expect at any moment for my building to collapse and to meet God face to face. Those first tremors lasted about a minute and a half which is a seeming eternity when experiencing it. While everything was shaking, you could hear glass shattering and some plaster falling in the stairwell and my windows were thrown open. I came away from this with a significant gash on my head, but I honestly don’t remember anything hitting me. When the tremors stopped, I went outside joining most of the building which had already left. Here are some videos from other friends who experienced the same thing in other parts of the city.

I can honestly say I was surprised that nothing around me has fallen. As you will see, many other parts of the city, were not so lucky. Although I grabbed my jacket and put on my shoes, many around me had not. Most panicked during that first shock and found themselves outside in their slippers and night clothes. About a third of the people I saw did not even have a jacket. They just woke up and ran. But it was freezing outside. At this moment if was raining but the rain was cold enough that it was doing little to no damage to the snow all around us. So most of us decided to go inside. I went in, posted an “I’m OK” notice on Facebook and to a few friends on Whatsapp, and then started trying to find out how big this was. Before any information came in, another tremor of 6.9 magnitude shook us for about 45 seconds. For a frame of reference, that was the same magnitude as the ’89 World Series quake in San Francisco. And this was the second, lesser quake in thirty minutes’ time. There were actually many quakes, that first day. Spacing themselves about 5 minutes apart, we had ten quakes over 5.5, three over 6.5, and another 88 aftershocks between 3.5 and 5.5 (as well as hundreds below that.) This is a video one of my friends took of one of those lesser aftershocks…

It didn’t take long before my phone was a flurry of activity. Everyone was trying to connect with everyone both to make sure they were OK and to find out what was going on. Through this grapevine, I learned that my school was opening up the gym as a safe shelter. At about 8AM, I grabbed a few things and headed out into the rain to get to school. For about 30 minutes, I just walked while trying to flag down any taxi I could see. Eventually one did stop. The driver let me in the front side passenger seat. His wife and mother were in the backseat. The four of us made our slow way through the rain, slick roads, and heavy traffic listening to the radio cover rescue operations live from another part of the city. Almost everyone who had a car was living out of that car during the first day. No building was safe and it was on that drive that I saw for the first time a collapsed building.

At the school, I saw many other teachers and students. Everybody was in shock and we would share information as it came in. I heard from friends in Istanbul of a couple trapped on the third story of a partially collapsed building. They were stuck there, exposed to the elements, praying the rest of the building would not fall, for about seven hours before they were rescued. Another teacher showed a partially collapsed six-floor building. Her cousin’s family was stuck on the ground floor with no way out. It was about a day and a half before they were rescued, and they were the lucky ones. Many of their neighbors did not survive. It was stories like these that were being passed around as we all tried desperately to find out what was happening and to check in with everyone we could. I was sitting high on the bleachers of that gym, talking with two junior high girls that were former students as well as a kindergarten girl who will appear in a picture below when the 7.5 earthquake struck. I remember saying to them, “Just stay, don’t panic don’t run. We will be safe here.” At the same time, nearly everyone else was screaming and running to the exit door on the far side of the gym. Many buildings that had been damaged in the previous earthquakes fell including a 13-story building about a mile from where we were sheltering and this building in the nearby town of Sanliurfa.

Because of this second earthquake, the total death toll and amount of damage sustained skyrocketed. At the latest count, that death toll stands at over 29,000, and one of them is a fifth-grade student I taught for two years. During a layover on my way to Palestine this summer, I happened to meet and exchange information with a young lady who worked for BBC. She connected with me that evening and asked if she could pass my information on. The next thing I knew, I was doing a series of live interviews. Four with BBC, one with CGTV, and one with the Guardian at last count. After a while, I finally started saying no more. I wanted to share what was really happening, and they only wanted two minutes of the exciting bits. Whatever sells. If it shows up, here is a link to a video update I posted to Facebook shortly after one of those interviews…

For the next bit, I am just going to share updates I posted to Facebook as they happened. This one was from Tuesday evening:

Currently holding down the fort in the gym. Two of “my crew” are checking on pets (birds) and things. Four others walked to the bus station. Since there are no current busses, one left there to head back to his apartment. One decided to stick around the station and wait for things to change. Two others, Iranians, are now headed to their airport. They have contacted their embassy and are hoping to fly out on the planes bringing relief in from Iran. [ed note. Many people were able to get out this way, but they did not have such luck, you will see them both later down]
Here, I have plenty of snack food and non-perishable things. There’s also a good amount of bottled water for drinking but there is no running water for washing or flushing toilets. I can let you imagine what bathrooms servicing 200+ people are starting to smell like.
Right now our electricity is through a generator. But many gas stations are now out of gas and many more will soon follow. So who knows how long that will hold up.
Early this morning I went for a short walk around the immediate area. I saw a lot of cracks, plaster, and glass damage, and the like, but no buildings within spitting distance have fallen. Damage is everywhere, but especially in the center and north parts of town where the buildings are older. I am in the West and there have been some fallen buildings nearby, but only a very small percentage. Just keep in mind that each of these fallen buildings now represents hundreds of homeless people and, if they weren’t evacuated already, dozens of lives lost.
I also saw on my walk probably about two dozen or so cars that had individuals or even whole families sleeping in them. Keep in mind that it was well below 30F last night and it is only in the low 40s now. Their batteries… their gas… it will not last. So I am OK now. And I know who holds the future. But we sure could go for a miracle or two right about now.

How you can pray:
1. That the aftershocks will stop. They have been less intense and less frequent today, but they are still happening regularly.
2. For the efforts of those valiantly trying to rescue people from the rubble. They are the real heroes in this all.
3. For safety on the roads in and out of the areas affected. Many roads are completely destroyed and others are now blocked by major accidents.
4. For a restoration of the infrastructure. Electricity, gas, sewage, etc. need to be up and running as soon as possible.
5. For the smaller villages. Right now the little relief that has arrived has rightly concentrated on the urban centers. But there are dozens of small villages that have been impacted just as severely.
6. For the families of those who have lost loved ones. And for the families and individuals that are now homeless.
7. For the church to shine. I have had beautiful gospel moments, as have others, but we need God to recharge us so that we can be a light in this dark place and a pillar that people can lean on.

This is the biggest, best, and healthiest meal I have had in days. Thank God for the kind and generous volunteers who were willing and able to cook enough rice, beef, and soup to feed 200+ people.

This little guy decided to use my leg as his pillow. I would move over, and he would inch up. It got to the point where I was sleeping diagonally and he had completely abandoned his blankets to keep his “pillow.” It didn’t matter that it was -4C outside and not much warmer in the gym. More than warmth, it was human contact he needed. It is what we all need.


For the first time, I have
beenable to return to my apartment. There is electricity. I don’t trust the water, but it is running (it’s a bit too colorful). The big thing is that there is no gas for heat. So there is no way I can spend my nights here.
Even still, it is a beautiful thing to be able to wash up, get some fresh clothes on, and relax in the knowledge that nothing serious has been destroyed.
There are still people buried in the rubble. There are still many, many buildings damaged beyond repair. There are still thousands living in cars. But there are also many places of refuge for people to stay. In a ten KM walk, I saw six different bread/soup distribution centers. I have heard of numerous people around the world who are rallying even more help to come. And God’s church is praying.


Breakfast time with a special guest. the “neighbor’s” kid. It is half real breakfast items and half snack foods we still have laying around. But we were able to buy hot, fresh cheese pogaca and simit. Of course, we have tea. No Turk can survive long without lots and lots of tea. But I haven’t had any coffee since Sunday morning.





The fear has mostly passed, but the true grieving has only begun. There is at least one fifth-grade student I taught in first and second who did not survive. As I talk to others and as I scroll through social media, I see many, many others who have lost family, friends, and neighbors. There is no way to ever get over a tragedy of this magnitude.
But we can try to get past it. As I was walking around today, I saw multiple teams of AFAD (the Turkish version of FEMA) out and about working on inspecting buildings. I have also seen repairs beginning on some businesses, but not on any homes that I noticed. The trains are up and running. Some restaurants are open, but only with limited options. The same is true with grocery stores.

They have been open for a while, but if there is any restocking, it is not nearly enough yet to keep up with demand.  There is still glass and powder from plaster littering the stairwell in my building, but I have heard the laundry machine running both yesterday and today. Still waiting for gas and inspection here. Until then, I can visit but I cannot yet move back home.

Please pray:

  1. For those who have lost loved ones. It is only now, as people are waiting for life to return to normal that the realization settles in. There will never again be such a thing as “normal.”
  2. For those working with AFAD. Let them be able to work as quickly and as efficiently as possible so that people will be able to return to their homes. Or at least know with certainty that such an option is off the table.
  3. For patience and love to abound in the kind hearts of those who have opened up their homes. Most everyone I know is now living in other cities with siblings, aunts,  uncles, cousins, etc. In at least one circumstance that I know of, that means ten people are bunking down in a one-bedroom apartment.
  4. For those who know that returning is not an option. The family next to me in the gym learned yesterday that they will not be able to return to their building since it has been deemed unsafe. They have no idea long-term what they will do next.
  5. For those locals who are assisting and managing the disaster relief efforts. These are kind and generous people who have suffered the same tragedy as the rest of us. But they have also given up their time, treasure, and even sleep to help those even worse off than themselves.
  6. Pray for warmer weather. While it is nice to have sunlight instead of rain or snow, it has still been incredibly cold here. This is especially true at night. There is still no gas/heat for almost everybody.
  7. Pray for me. Thank you.






11 thoughts on “Surviving Disaster

  1. Liking your post seemed an odd thing to do, but I felt it is important that you know we are concerned for you and all the earthquake victims and their families in Turkey and Syria. We will continue to pray for the situation there. God bless

  2. It’s good to read your words once again. My heart breaks for your Country and the people in the wake of this unimaginable disaster. Please know I have prayed, and will continue praying for each of the items/people you listed. We are all praying. Sending love and whatever else we can. 💜

  3. Thank you for your honest report. I understand the part about how the news groups really just want to hear something that will draw viewers. However, know that we are praying and it’s good to know some specifics about what to pray for. Hopefully, the charity organizations are cognizant of the needs that you mentioned. Stay well and peace be with you.

  4. Thank you for sharing, Don. My prayers go up for everyone involved, including those managing any funds. That heartfelt sympathy and hones dealings are prevalent. I pray that God moves and changes lives like never before. And, that many of us will see gratitude as a way of life. I am glad you are safe as well as others.

  5. Pingback: Surviving Disaster – Tonya LaLonde

  6. I immediately thought of you when I heard about the earthquake. Great to know you are alright. Thanks for updating us on the situation.
    In my prayers,

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