Tragedy of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria are brought home for Lincoln man

March 10, 2023, 5 a.m. ·

Mosab Alkoutaini prays during a service at the Islamic Foundation of Lincoln.
Mosab Alkoutaini (in front) prays during the evening service at the Islamic Foundation of Lincoln. (Photo by Aaron Bonderson, Nebraska Public Media)

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Mosab Alkoutaini was a radiologist in Syria. About one year ago, his family fled the war-torn country. They moved to Lincoln where he’s studying to get his radiology certification.

On the evening of Feb. 5, he was browsing Facebook when he read the news.

“After the earthquake, one hour – just one hour after – I was on Facebook and read what happened,” Alkoutaini said. “So, I called my brother. He’s in Turkey.”

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Turkey at 4:17 a.m. local time on Feb. 6. The tragedy has killed at least 50,000 people and left millions of survivors homeless in the two nations.

Alkoutaini's brother’s phone reception was weak and the call only lasted 10 minutes. During that call, Alkoutaini received good news about his brother and parents.

“He told me they’re alright, my family, my close family,” Alkoutaini said. “After that, we lost contact with them because they didn't have any network.”

His immediate family had been living in Hatay, a province in southern Turkey. He said they relocated to a house in northern Turkey. Because the earthquake struck early in the morning, Alkoutaini said his family can’t sleep well. But still, they're safe and have plenty of food and water.

However, Alkoutaini said, his cousin’s family wasn’t as fortunate.

“My cousin and his wife and four children, we didn't know anything about their status,” he said. “And after two days, we knew that they all died because a building collapsed on them.”

He said he was very close to his cousin, Labeb Alkoutaini.

“His children and mine were friends. And, he’s my friend. His wife is friends with my wife,” Alkoutaini said. “Sometimes I can't believe that I lost them and can't talk to them.”

He said he’s known Labeb since they were little. They’re just one year apart in age. Labeb was 56.

“He’s my best friend. And suddenly we lost not only him, but all of his family. That's very hard for me,” Alkoutaini said.

Labeb's two oldest sons take a photo together in front of a tree.
Labeb's two oldest sons. Laith Alkoutaini (left), 22, was majoring in computer science in his second year of college; Laith Alkoutaini (right), 25, was an engineer who recently graduated. (Photo courtesy of Mosab Alkoutaini)

All four of Labeb’s children were younger than 25. The oldest son was an engineer who recently graduated from college. The second oldest was in his second year of college studying computer science. Their youngest son was just 16 and still in high school. Labeb’s daughter also had big plans for the future.

“She was engaged and they had planned for marriage in the spring,” Alkoutaini said.

Alkoutaini said her fiancé lives in Romania.

“I talked to him. He’s very sad, of course,” Alkoutaini said. “I'm happy because I talked to him once just once after this tragedy.”

Around the same time that he learned about his cousin’s family, Alkoutaini received more bad news. His mother-in-law also died in the earthquake.

“My wife cried all the time until now. And my children — because his children, as I told you, are friends of my children,” Alkoutaini said.

Even though he’s lost loved ones, he recognizes there are many others who survived and need help.

“They need humanitarian aid. They need medicine. Hospitals need hospital supplies. They don't have anything now,” Alkoutaini said. “And, they need help to repair houses or build new houses, because we have a really big problem. 200,000 people are without houses.”

That figure is just for Syria. An estimated one million people are without shelter in Turkey.

The Islamic Foundation of Lincoln is raising money and supplies for recovery in the aftermath of the earthquakes. People can donate to help the survivors in Turkey and Syria by visiting the Islamic Foundation of Lincoln's website. People donating may specify which area the donation is for in the comments section. Tents, sleeping bags, food, new clothes, first aid and medical supplies are all welcome donations, too.

The Islamic Foundation of Lincoln says the following charitable organizations are also reputable and will offer supplies and aid to people in Turkey and Syria as they recover from this disaster: