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After devastating quake, Tri-State Area Turks and Syrians desperate for info on loved ones

Locals with ties to Turkey desperate for info after earthquake
Locals with ties to Turkey desperate for info after earthquake 02:06

NEW YORK -- The latest U.S. census shows New York and New Jersey have the nation's largest Turkish population, and there's great worry in those communities tonight.

"I just cried, first time last night," said Turan Kar.

Kar, owner of IFIX CP -- Cellphone Repair in Cliffside Park, has been glued to Turkish news. He has family in Adana -- one of the cities struck by the quake, but not the epicenter.

"They are okay, but they cannot stay in their home. Right now, in their cars outside," he said.

The buildings are too unstable, and aftershocks continue.

"Don't stay in the buildings, go out, go to the empty places," Mahmet Kandar shared. Those are the messages his family keeps hearing. They also live in Adana and are seeking refuge in their cars tonight.

"We're so worried about them," he said. "So many buildings are down, so many dead there."

"I'm scared actually, right away I texted my family over there, my father, brother," said Mohammad Helal, owner of Reem Al-Sham in Paterson.

Helal says his family in Syria is OK, and thankfully live beyond the quake's reach.

"They are safe, [thank God]," he said.

"A friend of mine just said he has mother-in-law still under the collapsed building," said Veysal Ucan, outreach director of the Turkish Cultural Center N.J.

Her rescue is underway, he said.

So many stories like that are repeating themselves throughout the Turkish Community Monday, and in some cases rescuers have yet to arrive. That's why Turkish Cultural Center N.J. partnered with Embrace Relief.

"They need food, they need shelter, blankets, clothing," said Osman Dulgeroglu, CEO of Embrace Relief.

The nonprofit started raising money this morning.

"My mother was born in Aleppo," said Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh. 

He added many Syrians, and especially Turks, call his city home.

"We reached out to the Turkish consul general and Turkish ambassador, both of them relayed the following message - they need help with search and rescue that would mean Task Force One would need to be activated here," Sayegh said.

He says he has reached out to the state and feds to see what can be done.

"Because it's a matter of minutes," he said.

Minutes between life and death as both Turkey and Syria rush to save the lives of loved ones trapped.

"New York City is home to a vibrant Turkish community. We join them in solidarity as we mourn those lost to these devastating earthquakes, and pray for the survivors," Mayor Eric Adams wrote on Twitter.

Turkish pizzeria owner in NYC to donate money to quake-ravaged homeland 02:09

CBS2 met a pizzeria owner from Turkey who quickly thought of a plan to help.

The phones at Champion Pizza are usually busy with delivery orders, but on Monday night owner Hakki Akdeniz said his personal line is tied up for another reason.

"Just calling, calling, calling. I call my mom like 20, maybe 30 times since," Akdeniz said.

His mom and several other family members live in southeastern Turkey, an area devastated by the earthquake. Akdeniz said his family is without electricity and some of them are sleeping in cars for warmth and because they're afraid to return home due to unpredictable aftershocks that have collapsed thousands of buildings.

"Physically, they're okay, but mentally they're not okay at this moment," Akdeniz said. "It's heartbreaking. It's really hard."

Akdeniz said he's still trying to get a hold of some of his friends to make sure they're okay. Rescuers are frantically searching through rubble for survivors in near-freezing temperatures.

An 18-month-old girl was saved from another home, but her uncle said the girl's two siblings and mother died. The family was among the millions displaced by Syria's civil war, only to then face this disaster.

On Tuesday, at Champion Pizza's SoHo location, Akdeniz plans to donate money from his pizza sales to help people affected by the earthquake.

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