Breaking News
More () »

'They will need the water purifers': East TN man heads to Turkey to provide potable water to quake victims

Joe Hurston last year traveled to Eastern Europe to help victims of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — First thing Friday, Joe Hurston headed out on another mission to bring potable water to thousands of people in need. By the following week, he was in Turkey helping people recover after a devastating earthquake.

"This right here is the battle — the battle to save lives," he said.

Hurston brought 14 water purifiers to southern Turkey, which along with parts of northern Syria has been devastated by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake. Reports indicate more than 20,000 people have been killed; the death count has continued to climb.

Many communities hit by the temblor are unrecognizable.

"It's only a matter of time before those buildings come down on the relief workers. They just found another person, like 20 minutes ago. It's amazing that they're surviving under the rubble. We're just glad to be here, that's all I can say," he said.

Hurston, of the East Tennessee non-profit Air Mobile Ministries, said he drove Friday to Miami and then flew Saturday to Istanbul. From there he made his way to "right square in the middle of ground zero" where the quake hit on the Turkish side.

Hurston brought water purifiers that should help provide water to some 14,000 people a day.

"It's not a matter of if they need the water purifiers," he told WBIR. "It's a matter of they will need the water purifiers."

The purifiers are made in Tazewell. Normally, Air Mobile Ministries collects money to make a purifier, which costs about $3,000, and then proceeds with assembly.

But Hurston said he awoke in the middle of the night Thursday and felt led by the Lord to just go ahead and go.

"An earthquake of that magnitude -- it so shakes and breaks everything and most importantly it breaks all the water lines. You turn on the water and there’s no water pressure because all the lines have been broken. You don’t get water pressure back, and then when you do get water pressure it's contaminated with sewer."

Payment for the purifiers will work itself out, he said.

"We don’t have one single unit funded yet," Hurston said.

Credit: WBIR
Joe Hurston, who will travel this weekend to Turkey to help with earthquake relief.

He said a doctor and filmmaker was expected to accompany him on the trip. Many people help Air Rescue Ministries, he said.

"It's a blessing."

Once he got to Turkey, he said he planned to team up with other mission organizers to assess damage and identify where the purifiers can best be used.

Hurston said prayer helps a lot, and he will appreciate all prayers from East Tennesseans.

Hurston is no stranger to earthquake response. And he's no stranger to disasters in general.

Last year, he brought water purifiers to parts of Ukraine after Russia's February 2022 invasion.

Monday’s earthquake affected an area that is home to 13.5 million in Turkey and an unknown number in Syria and stretches farther than the distance from London to Paris or Boston to Philadelphia.

Entire neighborhoods of high-rises have been reduced in some places to twisted metal, pulverized concrete and exposed wires.

In Adiyaman, Associated Press journalists saw someone plead with rescuers to look through the rubble of a building where relatives were trapped. They refused, saying no one was alive there and that they had to prioritize areas with possible survivors.

More people have now died in the Turkey-Syria quake than died in the 2011 earthquake off Fukushima, Japan, that triggered a tsunami.

The dead this week include over 17,600 people in Turkey and more than 3,300 in Syria. Tens of thousands have also been injured.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Before You Leave, Check This Out