HOKKAIDO, OKAYAMA, Feb. 9 – According to some local reports, the death toll in Turkey and northern Syria is nearing 10,000 after the earthquake struck the southern part of Turkey. Thousands of people are still trapped under collapsed buildings, while the 72-hour time limit for saving lives (10:17 a.m. on February 9 in Japan time) is approaching. There are Turks living in Japan and involved in farming, and they are saddened by the tragedy that hit the fellow citizens, saying, “It’s hard not to be able to do anything” for their families and friends who live 85,000 kilometers away.
-Mellal Seto (fruit farmer in Sapporo City, Hokkaido): I want to fly back immediately if there is anything I can do, like interpreting.
“The lamp is shaking!” Mellal Seto, 49, in Sapporo City, Hokkaido, Japan, was on the phone, talking with her sister in Turkey when she heard her daughter screaming. The line was cut suddenly, and later, she learned about the earthquake. Mellal’s sister and her family is living more than 200 kilometers away from Gaziantep, the quake’s center, and later, they were confirmed to be safe with no harm to their house.
Mellal moved from Ismir, a city on Turkey’s Aegean coast, to Japan 25 years ago after she married Shuichi Seto, the owner of Toyama Fureai Kajuen orchard with an approximately 100 years of history. Since then, she has been growing cherries, grapes, blueberries, apples, and other fruits with her 69-year-old husband while bridging Turkey and Japan.
She sometimes offers advice to Turks living in Japan. One of them is a man in his thirties from Gaziantep who started working in Sapporo last year. Some of his relatives at home, a married couple, are missing as the 7-story apartment they live collapsed. “The man flew back immediately, still looking for them in the rubble. It’s freezingly cold at night. I hope he finds them safe as soon as possible,” said Mellal.
She keeps contacting her sister and mother in Ismir every day from Sapporo. On February 8, she said while pruning cherry trees that it hurts that she can’t do anything but call when so many people at home are suffering. “I want to fly back immediately, if there’s anything I can do, like interpreting,” she said.
-Ali Soil (a grape farmer in Shoo Town, Okayama Prefecture): I feel hopeless. I just pray for everyone’s safety.
Ali Soil, 42, moved to Japan 20 years ago and runs a grape farm called Alibaba Farm in Shoo Town, Okayama Prefecture. Early in the morning on February 7, he saw one post on his friend’s SNS account. “My husband and mother are trapped in an elevator for 15 hours now,” it said.
The friend is a 50-year-old university professor living in Malatya, a city approximately 100 meters north of the epicenter. Immediately after seeing the post, Ali sent a message asking if she was OK. Seven hours later, Ali received a return message. She thanked him for his kindness and wrote, “I narrowly survived, but Malatya, Maras, Gaziantep, and Hatay are ruined. I am so sad.” She is now unable to contact with the two who are believed to be in the elevator.
Phones and Internet connections are very unstable in the quake-hit areas. Ali decided not to ask questions but to write that he wishes them all the best from the bottom of his heart.
On February 8, the temperature in Turkey dropped to sub-zero levels. His friends at home are heading to the affected areas to deliver relief supplies.
Ali said sadly in a small voice, “Only I cannot do anything,” while he helped his friend farmer restore greenhouses damaged by the heavy snow in late January in Japan.