Parveneh Palani was talking on Skype with her sister, who lives in an Iranian city of Sarpol-e-Zahab, when the biggest earthquake of 2017 hit.
The sisters had been cooking in their respective kitchens half a world away.
“All of a sudden her husband yelled her name…it’s an earthquake!” the Guildford woman recalled, with tears.
Her sister’s back was hurt by falling debris; she’d just built a three-storey home and had five tenants living under her roof.
“Ninety per cent of the house is completely on the ground, demolished,” Palani said.
“Her daughter-in-law was killed. My nephew just got married 10 months ago. She was only 25. The roof collapsed – she didn’t get out in time.”
There are many stories like this, after the 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit near the border of Iraq and Iran on Sunday, Nov. 12.
In Palani’s hometown, Sarpol-e-Zahab, in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, roughly 80 per cent of the city’s buildings were damaged and the death toll is officially 530 but likely much higher.
“We have lost relatives, including children, to those numbers,” Palani said.
She has set up a gofundme.com page, Sarpol-e-Zahab Earthquake Relief, which has raised $12,220 so far, by 65 people in four days, to help buy food, medicine and tents for the victims.
“I have a lot of family that got killed in there,” Palani told the Now-Leader.
“My cousin and his six children and his wife were killed. I have another second cousin in a village. His wife and two kids were killed, too.
“And I have another cousin that he went to his friends for an evening gathering – he’s a priest, was a priest – there was eight or nine people, the whole family, they were all killed. My brother in law, his sister and four kids and his brother in law, and plus they had 60 tenants, the whole complex, none of them lived. All died.”
The Guildford family, even before this tragic earthquake, were no strangers to hardship.
Palani, who works as a waitress, and her husband, Abdol Rahman-Moradi, an auto mechanic, are Kurdish. They met in Iraq in a refugee camp, where they got married and their two daughters and a son were born. The fourth child, a boy, was born in Canada.
“I have some memories,” their eldest daughter, Rosa Roukhoush, said of the refugee camp. “I remember finding that our chicken ended up in the poop chute. I remember that for some reason.”
Roukhoush lives in Toronto, where she works as a pediatric hygenist. She came to Surrey to be with her family in this time of crisis.
The family came to Canada as refugees in 1989, sponsored by St. Matthew Catholic Church in Edmonton. After a while, they settled in Surrey.
Rahman-Moradi still has bad dreams about the camp, which had no running water, and the war between Iraq and Iran. He is hard of hearing, from running from bombs.
His home village is Darizengna, roughly 20 kilometres from the epicentre of the earthquake.
About 40 families lived there. Twelve villagers were killed in the earthquake.
His mom Amina, 75, was buried by debris for about an hour until she got dug out injured, badly traumatized, but alive.
“She is scared, she can’t even get up,” Rahman-Moradi said. “She’s so scared, she says, ‘When I get up, the earth is shaking.’”
The couple’s youngest daughter, Roupak Moradi, is a nurse. She pleads for people to help the earthquake victims, however they might.
“Only raising awareness and spreading love. That’s the only thing we can do is hope for the best, and pray,” she said.
“They are in desperate need of food and shelter,” she said of the victims.
“We are just hoping we can help with the relief somehow.”
Meantime, a world away from the earthquake damage and loss of life, there is real human suffering here, too, in Guildford and elsewere in the city.
“I have nightmares,” Palani said, dabbing her eyes. “My village, where both of my brothers are living, is completely destroyed. They been, for five days now, they’ve been sleeping outside, without no blanket.
“People are being bitten by snakes. They need help.”