The earthquake and the winter cold pile more misery on war-ravaged Syrians
Crying children, destroyed buildings, hospitals full of corpses – Monday’s devastating earthquake seemed painfully familiar to Syrian families and rescue workers worn down by nearly 12 years of bombing and displacement.
The magnitude 7.7 earthquake sent people onto the streets in the north of the country, where air strikes and shelling had already shocked residents and weakened the foundations of many buildings.
In the rebel-held town of Jandris in Aleppo province, a pile of concrete, steel bars and bundles of clothes lay where a multi-storey building once stood.
“There were 12 families there,” said a thin young man with his eyes wide open in shock and his hand bandaged.
“We used to take people out ourselves at three in the morning,” he said, his breath visible in the cold winter air as he spoke.
Young men were seen scraping through the wreckage and swinging hammers on slabs of concrete, searching for survivors. Damaged water tanks and solar panels had been blown off roofs and landed on the damp ground.
At least 783 people have been killed and hundreds injured, according to data collected by the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Health and the Syrian Civil Defense.
The official Syrian News Agency (SANA), quoting the Ministry of Health, reported that at least 403 people were killed and 1,284 others injured, while the Syrian Civil Defense announced that 380 people had been killed and more than 1,000 others injured in opposition-held areas in the northwest of the country. Syria.
The tally reported by state media is believed to include only those living in government-controlled areas.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said more than 900 people have been killed and more than 5,000 wounded.
“We are in a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble. Even if our teams are exhausted, we don’t have time to rest,” Raed Fares, head of the White Helmets, told Reuters by telephone.
Air strikes over the years, he said, left the buildings structurally brittle so they “collapsed instantly”, eventually resulting in more deaths.
Millions of people in northwest Syria have been put at risk by the conflict, according to the United Nations, which says 2.9 million people in the area have been displaced and 1.8 million live in camps.
Rescue teams have worked for years to save people from shelling and airstrikes by Syrian government or Russian forces that often hit the same location multiple times, putting the lives of first responders at risk.
“For now, at least, no one will bomb us while we are at work,” Fares said.
But the cold winter weather added another challenge for rescue workers, who said the families were exposed to near-freezing temperatures and heavy rain.
Ahmad al-Sheikh, a resident of a nearby border town, in the countryside of Idlib province, said the earthquake destroyed modest buildings that had been set up in displacement camps hosting Syrians who had fled war for years.
To the west, the main hospital in the rebel-held city of Afrin teemed with wounded residents writhing on the floor and women struggling to reach loved ones by phone as the lines were down.
Paramedics pressed black body bags onto the bloodstained floor as young children screamed in the background.
“Ambulance sirens are heard everywhere. People are shocked,” said Ibrahim Obaid, an Afrin resident. “The situation is very tragic. There is a lot of fear and we are still feeling tremors.”