Calgary man finds mother, sister dead after Turkiye earthquake

PICTURE WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

It was around 11pm on February 5 in Calgary when Mohammad Ajmal Nikzad heard the news on TV about the devastating earthquake that had hit Kahramanmaras, Turkiye, where his mother and three siblings lived.

“I tried to call them. I called each of them, but their phones were all off,” he told on Tuesday. “I realized that something had happened to them and soon I booked a ticket and went to Turkiye.”

Nikzad’s mother, along with his siblings, were living in a seven-story building when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake shook large swaths of Turkey and Syria. The whole structure collapsed.

“My family is downstairs in the building. Of the four family members, two have been taken to the hospital and two of them – my mother and my sister – are lying in the dust… Please pray for them to be alive,” Nikzad said in a video he posted on TikTok on February 7.

“When I got there, I saw the end of the world. I saw bodies without legs, without heads,” he added.

After hours of searching, Nikzad said he found the bodies of his sister Sayeda Hashimi, 23, and mother Najya among those pulled from the rubble by rescue teams.

He tried to find an ambulance or a vehicle to take the bodies somewhere for burial.

“I was on the road for six hours with my sister’s body in a bag, but no one helped me. I’m desperately asking every driver to stop and help me,” Nikzad told CTV

Finally, a group of people answered his call for help. After burying his mother and sister, he began searching for his 20-year-old sister Najma Hashimi and 25-year-old brother Sharif Hashimi.

Nikzad discovered his brother had been taken to a hospital in the Turkish capital Ankara for treatment. Both of his legs were amputated.

His surviving sister was taken to a hospital in Kayseri, where doctors informed him that one of her legs had to be amputated.

“When I saw my sister, she could barely open her eyes. She was asking my mother and other family members. Her eyes are full of dust,” Nikzad said. “Her condition is very bad.”

Last week’s earthquake, centered on Kahramanmaras and also hitting neighboring Syria, has claimed the lives of at least 39,000 people.

The Nikzad family is originally from northern Afghanistan, in the province of Baghlan. He came to Canada as a refugee 17 years ago and is now a Canadian citizen.

His mother was a school principal and regularly received threats from the Taliban to stop teaching girls, but she refused. His father was killed one day and in 2017 the family decided to move to Turkiye for safety reasons.

Now, Nikzad’s wife and 8-year-old son are waiting for him at home in Calgary as he tries to figure out how to bring his surviving siblings to Canada.

“I contacted the Canadian embassy and also the Canadian government in Ottawa, they said there was nothing they could do for my siblings and I had to contact the immigration department. [Refugees and Citizenship Canada]Nikzad said. “I have sent several emails to immigration but they have not responded.”

Nikzad, a self-employed floor installer, said he feels distressed and helpless to care for his family in Calgary and two siblings in Turkiye. He hopes the Canadian government can somehow help his family.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser last week said Canada could quickly process immigration applications from people trapped in earthquake zones in Turkiye and Syria.

Reporting for this story was paid for through the Meta-sponsored Afghan Journalists in Residence Project.

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