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Students return to school in opposition-held Syria after earthquakes

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Students in opposition-held northwest Syria returned to school on Saturday, three weeks after two major earthquakes in Turkey’s Kahramanmaraş province devastated the area.

Many schools have been converted into temporary shelters in the aftermath of the 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes that hit Turkey and neighboring parts of Syria on February 6, killing at least 50,000 people.

The earthquake has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the region, many of whom have already been displaced by the 12-year-old war in Syria. Because of this conflict, the opposition-held area has struggled to receive much-needed humanitarian aid.

Abdel Kafi al-Hamdo, a citizen journalist in the opposition-held area, said many students missed classes on Saturday, as their homes were damaged in the earthquake and their families are now away from schools.

“Some of the students were worried about being inside the building and were in a state of tension whenever they heard a sound like moving a desk. Many of the students are suffering from extreme fear and anxiety. “They are still in shock,” al-Hamdo said on the phone while visiting a school.

Ziyad al-Omar, an official in the district’s Department of Education, said 39 teachers and 421 students were killed in the quake. He added that about 250 schools sustained damage, of which 203 were partially destroyed and 46 had cracks in the walls, although the buildings were still standing.

Over the past few days, the displaced have been asked to leave schools, and many have moved into shelters to live in tents. But the prices of the tents have skyrocketed amid shortages and are selling for about $200, four times the pre-earthquake prices. A hardtop tent with metal brackets can cost up to $400, in an area where more than 90% of the population lives in poverty and depends on food aid and medicine.

Education officials in opposition-held Idlib said the last two hours on Saturday and Sunday will be used to train students on how to evacuate buildings during earthquakes.

Among those who lost their home in the earthquake was Aisha, a resident of the town of Atarib in rural Aleppo, who had to vacate her home to live in a tent. She told the Associated Press that the temporary shelter provided for her extended family of 13 had to be evacuated because organizers said schools were about to resume, and the yard — where the tents were set up — had to be evacuated.

They provided us with a tent in a school. Then they said the students had to come back and started evacuating us,” she said, giving only her first name like most women in the conservative area.

Once it was a large family, Aisha rented a small house on the edge of Atarib, but four days after they moved there, a new earthquake of magnitude 6.4 occurred on Monday. “The house, fortunately, did not collapse, but the walls had cracks. The roof remained in place,” she said.

Since then, the family has pitched a tent on the street, fearing more aftershocks.

According to the opposition-affiliated Syrian Civil Defense also known as the White Helmets, the earthquake killed 2,274 people and injured more than 12,400 others in the opposition-held area. The earthquake also destroyed 550 buildings and severely damaged at least 1,570 other buildings.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 6,720 people were killed in Syria, including 2,234 in regime-controlled areas and 4,526 in opposition-held areas, especially in northwestern Syria.

It is estimated that the total death toll from the earthquake exceeded 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria – with the vast majority of those killed in Turkey.

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