A Duke University PhD student died in the massive earthquake that hit Turkey and Syrai, according to Duke University officials.

Samar Zora was in Turkey doing research for her PhD in Cultural Anthropology. When, Saad Zora learned of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake he tried to contact his twin sister.

“You hear there’s an earthquake, no messages are going through, you assume the worst, but then there’s an ounce of hope left, you know, you wanna be proven wrong, so I wanted to go and find out that I was wrong,” Saad Zora said.

Saad Zora did what he could from his home in Canada, including contacting Canadian government officials and confirming his sister’s building collapsed through a stranger over a messaging app. After a few days, he decided to fly to Antakya, Turkey.

“I mean it’s family, and I truly believe that if we didn’t go, she’d be buried in the mass graves there with hundreds and hundreds of unclaimed bodies,” he said.

Samar and Saad Zora’s brother, Muthana Zora, came in from Kuwait. Summer Steenberg, who is in the same Duke PhD program as Zora, flew in from Iraq, where she was doing research.

“She was incredibly smart, incredibly ridiculously smart,” Steenberg said.

For about a week they worked with rescue teams on the ground. Because of the scale of the disaster, Steenberg described the search and rescue efforts as chaotic. She credits the two brothers with pushing rescuers to look for Samar Zora.

“These two were the ones who were like pulling people aside to have them look at the buildings and the ones like insisting on no we want you to come back here and look,” Steenberg said.

Saad Zora said the five days it took from his arrival to his sister being recovered were horrific.

“It was a devastating five days, each day felt like multiple,” he said.

From food to blankets, the two are grateful for the hospitality of strangers on the ground who were searching for loved ones of their own.

“The story here is times tens of thousands,” Saad Zora said. “There’s people who buried their whole family.”

They are also grateful for international rescue teams, specifically thanking Hungary and South Korea. While those rescuers didn’t prove Saad Zora wrong, they did allow him to bring his sister home.

“I wanted to be proven wrong and unfortunately this is the situation, but at the same time it was like we could finally stop this search,” Saad Zora said. “I hate to use the phrase ‘it brought us peace’, but it did put us at rest for now, you know, now we’re dealing with grieving.”

The family was able to bury Samar Zora in Kuwait, where she was born.

Saad Zora thanked Kuwaiti officials for handling the logistics of bringing her back home, that happened within 24 hours of her being discovered.



They’re now raising money to try and help with relief efforts for Hatay, which is something Saad Zora said his sister would have wanted. That GoFundMe is here.

There is also a GoFundMe to help the family with funeral expenses.

Zora said his sister was nearly finished with her research and was set to begin writing her dissertation in July. She was 33 years old.