POWHATAN – Tony Kilic feels like he didn’t need to die to experience Judgement Day.
Two days after massive 7.8 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes on Feb. 6 devastated the countries of Turkey, where Kilic was visiting his family, and Syria, he stood by the grave of a friend and his mother who never even had the chance to get out of bed before their building collapsed.
As he mourned the loss of his friend, he watched as the horrifying reality of the situation afflicting his homeland unfolded all around him. A man pulled up to the cemetery in a pickup truck filled with the seven bodies of relatives. Public services in the south central town of Adana, where his parents live, were so overwhelmed that they couldn’t handle all of the burials themselves.
“The guy had to go to the morgue, pick up his family’s bodies in the bed of his truck because he couldn’t get anybody else to do it,” Kilic said.
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Soon after, a van pulled up with four bodies in it needing to be buried. There were no coffins – just body bags.
“The backhoes are constantly digging holes and the other backhoes are putting dirt on the holes,” he said. “I am watching this scene and they bring this 10-year-old girl and put her in the dirt and cover her up. … Because of the weather conditions and the scale of destruction in the area everything was so complicated. It upsets me seeing that 10-year-old girl buried like that and then there are hundreds and hundreds of people coming.”
Kilic sat down with the Powhatan Today on Feb. 15 in his office at Classic Granite and Marble in Powhatan, where he is CEO, to talk about the devastating earthquakes that have killed at least 41,000 people in Turkey and Syria, with numbers still rising. He only returned home on Feb. 10, still raw and worried for the family, friends and others he left behind.
Kilic wanted to share his story not only to describe the devastation but to promote how people can help. Even while he was still in Turkey, staff at his company in Powhatan were organizing donations of items and funds to send to Turkey.
The company, with the help of partners and people in the community, has already sent two truckloads of needed items to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., and is sending monetary donations to the Turkish Philanthropy Fund, which is supporting the immediate relief efforts and ensuring that survivors and first responders receive critical resources, including food, housing, medical aid and water. The link to donate is https://donate.tpfund.org/team/480722.
Susan Oguchi, Classic Granite’s marketing manager, said they took the time to thoroughly vet where donations would be sent as they recognize that there are opportunists who use tragedies to create scams. Once that was in place, they reached out to all of their community and business partners, who quickly responded with donations requested on the initial lists of needed items as well as monetary donations.
Kilic said he was grateful for the support they have already seen from so many people, including those they have never met.
“It is good to know there are still people out there that care. It doesn’t matter what country, it doesn’t matter who you are. This type of natural disaster, it could happen to anybody,” he said.
Kilic said he was fortunate that all of his family survived the earthquake, although their homes were impacted to varying degrees.
Classic Granite has six employees in Turkey who work in its computer aided drafting department, Oguchi said. All six of them survived but lost their homes and have had to go stay with other family members, sometimes splitting up households to make it work. Another employee at the company in Powhatan had his entire hometown leveled.
Kilic was at his parent’s home in Adana when the first earthquake hit at around 4:15 a.m. The epicenter was near the city of Gaziantep, which was only about 150 miles away.
The sound woke him up first, “like a deep rumble coming from the earth.” Then everything started shaking. He said he expected it to stop since most earthquakes don’t last that long, but it just kept going.
“When it happened the first time I thought that is it for me. It did go through my mind I might not make it out of this one,” Kilic said. “Usually I am very calm and composed but I was shaken. I am trying to go down the steps and my whole body is shaking because two minutes is a long time with that intensity. I am thinking ‘it is going to stop now, it is going to stop now.’”
During the earthquake, he stood next to a column, the strongest part of the house. He described looking out the windows and they were “moving 20 inches back and forth.” Later, in the kitchen he would find the refrigerator moved 3 feet away from the wall.
When the shaking finally stopped, Kilic’s first priority was getting his mom out of the two-story house. A neighbor had to help get her down the stairs because she could not navigate them herself. He took her to his brother’s warehouse, which had an administration building where they would end up sleeping on the floor for the next several days since a one-story building was the safest place to be.
That afternoon, he went to get some of their things from the house. He was there taking a shower when the 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck and said he grabbed some clothes and got out quick.
In the coming days, Kilic said his whole world felt shaky in more ways than one. By the time he left the country, there had been 1,800 aftershocks. As of last week, news agencies were reporting ongoing aftershocks had surpassed 3,800.
“I lost my equilibrium. He would wake up in the morning and it took a minute or two to get my balance,” he said.
Meanwhile, devastation was everywhere you looked with buildings collapsed and rescue workers struggling to find survivors while fighting exhaustion and cold. Kilic said he and his brothers weren’t trained as search and rescue workers and didn’t want to add to the danger of the situation, so they supported the workers by bringing supplies such as water and hot soup to help them warm up a little in the cold temperatures.
He praised not only the Turkish search and rescue teams but the ones that came from so many different countries around the world to help the roughly 400 miles of impacted area.
The country is building tent cities to get a “roof” over the heads of people who lost everything or putting them at hotels or college dorms to get them out of the winter weather, he said.
Kilic urged people to help disasters victims however they can and thanked all those who already have leant aid in some way.
“This is not only about Turkey or people in Turkey. Any country, pretty much anybody, could be in the same situation. It just shows us that there are still good people out there willing to help unconditionally and it just means a lot to us,” he said.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.