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‘We want to help,’ Turks rush to aid quake survivors

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With temperatures below freezing, the line of earthquake victims waiting for steaming hot stews and soups stretches out into the dark in the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Ajde Güneş is one of them, grateful to the restaurants that are feeding the army of homeless in Turkey’s gourmet capital.

“The queues are enormous, but the restaurants have done more than the government,” Güneş said, pointedly.

The restaurants are among tens of thousands of people working hard to help families in any way they can across the country after Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Syria.

From some of the country’s best restaurants to one pensioner selling her cow to send money to survivors, Turks are rushing to meet survivors’ needs.

In Gaziantep’s İmam Çağdaş restaurant, renowned for its Alinazik aubergine and meat stew and baklava sweets, they have served up to 4,000 free meals a day since the tremor that left more than 25,000 people dead in Turkey and Syria.

“We are making food that is easy to prepare, easy to serve and good against the cold, like pastas, and soup in the mornings,” said Burhan Çağdaş, the owner’s son.

Each day the restaurant prepares four or five different meals.

“If we run out of food, other restaurants and businesses help us. They know we are sharing it with people in need.”

At least 2,000 people died in Gaziantep after the quake, while tens of thousands have been forced out of apartment blocks considered unsafe or at risk from a new shock.

‘We want to help’

İmam Çağdaş restaurant cannot make its signature hot meal because key ingredients are missing and some staff has not been able to work.

But there is tava, a mix of tomatoes, onion, meat and spices.

“Our co-workers are in a bad situation. Their families are victims and their houses are destroyed,” said Çağdaş. His own family has been sleeping in cars since Monday.

“We want to help.”

Other top restaurants in Gaziantep have also started handing out meals.

Hundreds can be seen at midday outside Firino, an upscale coffee shop overlooked by Gaziantep castle, where the ancient towers were toppled by the quake.

At Meshur Kalealti, also in Gaziantep’s tourist district, the staff gives out 3,000 helpings of soup and bread a day, said one manager, Burhan.

“We will keep going as long as the crisis lasts,” he said. “Even if it is weeks.”

Every little helps

Even smaller eateries have joined the effort. “We hand out 200 kebabs a day,” said Hıdır Nemasek, who runs a small takeaway with his wife in the Şahinbey district.

At Festival Park, which has been taken over by a tent city where families spend freezing nights under canvas, the homeless queue for free basic food served at the entrance.

“I queue here once a day, but my children make me go to a restaurant for the evening meal, it is so much better,” said Deniz Erdoğlu, who is in a tent with his wife and four children.

To meet the needs of people like Erdoğlu and others, municipalities across the country have sent trucks laden with emergency support including food and water.

Others try to help in any way possible, even selling their cattle.

Sarıgul Kaçan, 70, in the eastern province of Kars, sold her cow for 13,000 Turkish lira ($700) to send to victims, state media reported.

Another pensioner, Nazime Kılıç, who lived through the 1983 tremor in the eastern province of Erzurum, sold her bull for 23,000 lira.

She hoped her effort would encourage her children to do the same. “I have eight children. I tell them, help as much as you can,” local media quoted her as saying.

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