‘It’s very heartbreaking’: Turkish doctor recalls experience during 1999 earthquake

Dr. Tuna Ozyurekoglu walked the floors of his practice on Chamberlain Lane Monday afternoon thinking about his hometown of Adana, Turkey.
Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 5:48 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Thousands of people were killed and thousands of buildings were sent crumbling to the ground after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit parts of Turkey and Syria.

As Dr. Tuna Ozyurekoglu walked the floors of his practice on Chamberlain Lane Monday afternoon, the surgical hand specialist was still thinking about his hometown of Adana, Turkey.

“[The] first information was actually through social media of the collapsed buildings and how many buildings were destroyed, etc. were all through social media,” Ozyurekoglu said.

Ozyurekoglu told WAVE News one of his former classmates was killed in the earthquake.

“It’s so sad,” he said. “It’s very heartbreaking. There are no warning signs. It’s not like a tornado or hurricane coming in. The shaking starts. You feel those waves and it... there’s a lot of vibration, but also waves that lift you up and down.”

Ozyurekoglu felt that seismic sensation back in 1999.

He was said he was in Istanbul when a 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey. That quake killed 18,000 people.

“We slept in our car and it was summertime, so it wasn’t that bad,” he said. “But these people right now, it’s winter and there’s a lot of snow and cold weather. People, they have to spend the night outside. So I heard that tents are being distributed. So they are building tents and they will spend the night in tents.”

The unexpected disaster hit Turkey in the middle of the night.

As of Monday evening, the death toll continues to increase.

Yet, Ozyurekoglu said in times of tragedy, humanity is often on display.

He said several friends have called and sent messages to check on him and his family. His medical school friends in Turkey have begun to organize and help people in need.

He said they’re trying to soften the blow of yet another traumatic natural disaster.

“The first week is extremely important, because you can still rescue those survivors,” Ozyurekoglu said. “But then, how long does it take to get normal, to your normal life? It will probably take years. They will, in the end, build, but it takes years.”

Ozyurekoglu said he’s debating establishing a donation drive for people in his hometown.