Quick Take:

Restaurateur Yunus Arslan says he’s shaken but doing what he can to help friends and family members in dire need in Turkey after Monday’s devastating earthquake and severe aftershocks.

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Yunus Arslan is devastated but doing what he can to help friends and family members in dire need of help in Turkey after a devastating earthquake struck the region Monday.

The death toll as of Friday morning was more than 20,000 across Turkey and Syria, according to the Associated Press. Turkish officials say the earthquake and severe aftershocks have affected more than 13 million people.

Arslan lives in Santa Cruz with his wife, Marissa, and runs Arslans Turkish Street Food on Walnut Avenue. He moved to San Francisco from Turkey in 2013, before marrying Marissa and moving to Santa Cruz in 2018. Two years later, they opened the restaurant.

In the days since the earthquakes, Arslan said he has learned of many friends and family members from the village of Konuklu, where he grew up, who had perished.

“This is what’s happening right now — I’m getting calls like, ‘Someone died, another person died,’” said Arslan, sitting in his restaurant.

He said his siblings and their immediate families narrowly survived but are now homeless. His mother is hospitalized with a broken back.

Yunus Arslan shows a photo of his mother's home after the earthquake in Turkey.
Yunus Arslan shows a photo of his mother’s home after the earthquake in Turkey. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Arslan’s mother and aunt, Emine and Guver, were sleeping on the second floor of their home in Konuklu, just north of the border with Syria, when one of the earthquakes hit at 4:17 a.m. The home was severely damaged but the second floor was somewhat spared. If it weren’t for a large tractor parked beneath them in the garage, they believe the second floor would have been entirely lost, and Emine and Guver, too.

During the earthquake, Arslan said, a large piece of debris pierced his mother’s body, breaking her back. They were trapped in the home until people from a neighboring village heard their cries for help. Because of the road conditions and swamped hospitals, Emine was turned away from a first hospital Monday, but was given medications before finally making it to a second hospital Wednesday in Gaziantep, about 100 miles away.

One of Arslan’s brothers is with her while she’s waiting to hear from doctors about whether she’ll need surgery. Arslan said she was told she’d need five weeks of bed rest to recover, adding that the hospital doesn’t have any bandages or antiseptic creams to help heal the open wounds.

He is at a loss for words thinking about his family and friends and home country. In conversations with his brother and friends and through social media, he said there are too many stories of entire families lost, babies pulled from rubble struggling to survive and questions of how to move on.

His two brothers and one sister all have spouses, and each has two kids. Because their homes might not be structurally safe due to the damage, and must be inspected before they can return to live in them, they’re staying in a variety of places for shelter. One brother and his family have been sleeping in their car, Arslan said; his sister and her family have been in a factory, and another brother and his family have been staying at a school.

People feel as though they experienced the end of the world — something they never imagined they would see in their lives, said Arslan. When it comes to where people will go and what they will do, he said there’s no certainty and it could take years to rebuild.

In the meantime, he’s talking to his family members through WhatsApp when he can in order to get updates. He’s also in touch with a friend from Turkey who lives in Burlingame who’s been helping to coordinate donations of items and money to send back home from California.

“Everyone is in shock,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. Nobody knows.”

Yunus Arslan behind the counter at Arslans Turkish Street Food, his downtown Santa Cruz restaurant
Yunus Arslan behind the counter at Arslans Turkish Street Food, the downtown Santa Cruz restaurant he owns with his wife, Marissa. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

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