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Turkey Immigrants Contact Relatives

August 18, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Hayrettin Celik spent hour after hour trying to call his mother and two sisters in Turkey, hoping the devastating earthquake that killed hundreds had somehow spared them.

``At least I want to hear their voice, I want to find out they are all right,″ said the 23-year-old waiter at the Hemsin Bakery & Restaurant in New York City’s Queens borough.

``If I can’t contact them, I plan to go to Istanbul,″ he said.

Turkish immigrants across the United States are spending frantic hours on the phone trying to glean information about family and friends in their earthquake-stricken homeland. Many have turned to the Internet.

Emine Semerci and her husband, Murat, from Paterson, N.J., were still awaiting news about their family late Tuesday.

``It’s a dead-end situation,″ she said. ``You can’t contact them. There’s no way of speaking with them.″

Mehmet Yildirim, president of the Turkish American Cultural Association of Georgia, had 10 people at his house in Sandy Springs, Ga., to watch satellite television reports.

``We’ve got a Georgia Tech student staying at our house who’s been up 24 hours, because he didn’t know what happened to his family,″ Yildirim said. ``They were able to pull his mother out of the rubble, and he was relieved and he finally went to sleep after getting the phone call.

``Another friend has not heard anything.″

Ilker Baybars, senior deputy dean of the Carnegie Mellon Graduate Business School, said Turkish students in Pittsburgh were desperately trying to contact relatives.

``Some of them have no idea what happened to their brothers and sisters,″ he said.

He said his wife and daughter are in Izmir, about 180 miles south of Istanbul, and felt the earthquake there. They were not injured.

Baybars said his brother drove to Istanbul to check on relatives _ they were fine but the destruction was incomprehensible.

``It’s devastating,″ Baybars said. ``They’re not able to get information. The emergency response team in Turkey is probably not as well organized and efficient as those in the U.S. _ everything falls apart.″

With word that his family in Istanbul was safe, Portland State University senior Mehmet Kalyoncuoglu set out to collect money to aid survivors.

``It’s our mission to do it,″ said Kalyoncuoglu, president of the school’s Turkish American Student Cultural Association.

At the Turkish consulate in New York, deputy consul Sedat Onal said many people had called offering aid. The American Red Cross was accepting donations, and Onal said the consulate was conferring with officials in Ankara about how best to help.

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