Outside a small community center in Enfield, north London, Lutfi Erguven looks intently at something on his phone.
The small screen shows rescuers digging through the rubble. They are looking for people trapped in wreckage in Mr Erguven’s hometown in southern Turkey. A series of earthquakes hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday morning, killing more than 15,000 people – a death toll expected to rise.
He’s not watching an excerpt from a news bulletin, Erguven tells BBC News – it’s a Zoom call. Rescue teams are sharing their efforts in a video call, allowing Turkish people in the UK and elsewhere to join in the remote search for their loved ones. Mr. Erguven gave them his cousin’s name. He hopes they find him alive.
“They haven’t found my cousin yet, but they found other people,” he says. “That’s good news for us too.”
Mr Erguven explains that he has traveled from his home in Edinburgh to London to personally join others in his community. While there are Turkish communities in the UK, the vast majority live in North London. Mr. Erguven is also Alevi, a minority religion prevalent in the hardest-hit areas of southern Turkey.
According to him, the Zoom link has been shared in Turkish WhatsApp groups. Dozens of people have joined hoping to find out their loved ones are safe.
In normal times, the center of the British Alevi Federation focuses on more light-hearted community activities, such as Turkish music lessons and beginner cycling courses for adult women. But now it has organized an emergency relief trip, flying a small group of people into the country before traveling long distances to hard-hit areas. They also carry large containers full of blankets, heaters and toiletries.
Atescan Ates, a second-year law student, tells BBC News that as soon as they heard of the disaster, he and other young people immediately took to social media to organize donations.
“A lot of us have quite a following on social media, so we started posting, ‘These are the places you can go to donate – if you can’t go, get in touch and we’ll get donations straight from your home,” he says. “We drove across London, south to north, everywhere, on Mondays and Tuesdays.”
They then worked through the night until about 1 a.m. on Wednesday to pack up the donations, ready to be transported to Turkey on Wednesday afternoon.
“It was a huge collective effort,” says Mr Ates. “Unfortunately, in recent decades there has been quite a bit of division among the people of Turkey – be it the Turks, Kurds, Alevis or Sunnis. But you can see that when a disaster happens, everyone can put everything aside and come. ” together. We may be different, but our families, our neighbors – they are all under the same rubble.”
Silan Polat and Sevgi Akgoz are part of the group that is sorting donations. The journey, they say, will be a struggle for those who go.
“Some villages are closed because the roads are damaged, so people from here are going to try to reach those areas by any means,” says Ms. Akgoz. “There’s no electricity, so some people can’t even contact us to let us know where they are or what they need.”
Her mother’s cousin, she adds, is now homeless and “trying to survive in their garage” with their children in -3C temperatures. Others in their village sleep in their cars or outside on the street.
Ms Polat, whose father is one of the people who go to Turkey, adds: “It’s such a poor area. We go to our parents’ and grandparents’ villages and people think ‘oh there’s technology, people have phones – they don’t, it’s another realm. They can’t access anything, so they had no advance warning [about the earthquake]. They have no news, they have no electricity or computers.”
Many of the buildings that collapsed, she adds, were recently built and could withstand earthquakes.
“This magnitude of the disaster could and should have been avoided,” says Ms Polat.
Ms. Akgoz says she’s encouraged to see people come together, but she also can’t help but feel guilty.
She says, “I am ashamed to sit in my warm house. I am ashamed to feel full. When I am about to sleep I am ashamed to sleep because I know my family and my friends, my loved ones are freezing out there in the cold.”