It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Your child is sick, you take him to the hospital and admit him. You breathe a small sigh of relief and step out of the room for a minute. At that very moment, life took on a hellish tone for Ismael, a journalist based in Idlib province in northern Syria.
At 4:18 am local time on Monday (6), Sunday night in Brazil, a strong earthquake of magnitude 7.8 occurred. Everything around shook violently for two minutes. “Then the earthquake got stronger,” he says over the phone. “The power went out, and the entrance to the hospital, which was made of glass, broke.”
He saw two residential buildings collapse about 150 meters away from where he was standing and was completely disoriented in the sudden darkness. “It was like a doomsday scenario. I started to imagine how I would rescue my son from the rubble.”
A minute later, he saw his son Mustafa running towards him, screaming and crying. He had ripped out his own IV drip, and blood was seeping down his arm. For up to an hour, no one was able to reach the collapsed buildings.
It was also impossible to call the Civil Defense because of the power and internet cuts. The city of Al-Dana is controlled by the opposition to the Syrian regime, close to the border with Turkey. Civil Defense units are the only first responders in the absence of any government services. But the scale of the devastation made it impossible for them to reach places where there are people in need of rescue.
A few hours later, Ishmael went to check the situation across Idlib province. “The damage is indescribable,” he says. “The most affected areas are those that had been bombed by the Syrian government or Russian forces.”
The Arab Spring in Syria in 2011 turned into a bloody civil war. The Syrian regime, supported by Russia, attacked rebel-held areas. The war led to a stalemate: today, northwest Syria has become a kind of “patchwork” of zones controlled by opposition forces or the Damascus regime.
Ishmael says he saw dozens of residential buildings destroyed in the city of Atareb, north of Aleppo. “Rescue teams are unable to reach many buildings and neighborhoods due to lack of equipment. We really need help from international organizations.”
Osama Salloum works for the Syrian American Society of Medicine Foundation (SAMS), which supports several hospitals throughout the opposition-controlled Northwest. “I was at the SAMS hospital in Atareb a few hours after the earthquake. When I left the hospital there were around 53 dead. I couldn’t count the number of injured.”
He says that more than 120 people have died in that hospital alone. Salloum says hospitals have few resources to deal with a disaster of this magnitude. “Most people rescued from the rubble have deep wounds that need specialist treatment and advanced equipment,” he says. Atareb hospital only has an old CT scanner.
Most aid arriving in Syria from Turkey is subject to stringent border checks. As Turkey itself is facing a humanitarian crisis, it is unclear what supplies will reach opposition-held areas in Syria. “If we run out of our current medical supplies, we will suffer.”
The earthquake also hit regime-controlled areas in the north. Aya, who is only comfortable revealing her first name, was visiting her family in the city of Latakia when the earthquake hit. The 26-year-old chef was sleeping with her mother and three siblings when the power went out.
“I got out of bed, but I wasn’t sure what had woken me up,” he says. “I didn’t understand what was going on until I saw the rest of my family awake as well.”
His family home is on a big city street and has glass windows throughout. “We couldn’t move because of the force of the earthquake,” she says. “We were planted in the same place.”
Aya’s mother has Parkinson’s disease. She was completely panicked. “I was in shock and couldn’t move. I watched the walls shaking and moving back and forth. I can’t even describe how surreal this situation was.”
Haneen, a 26-year-old architect, also lives in Latakia. She said young people in her neighborhood had set up tents for people to protect themselves from the rain. In Turkey, tents are generally used to house relatives and friends during funerals. For Haneen, the sight of the tents is something somber.
His mother was in her home village and is not in danger. But Haneen is traumatized. “I’m not sure if I helped my sister leave the house first or if I was the one who left first. And I don’t even have the heart to ask her that,” she says.
They took shelter in front of the local bakery, but later returned home. “We went through the war and were forced to leave our home in 2012. The feeling I had in the middle of the earthquake was different from what I felt during the war. I felt that at that moment everything around me could collapse. I felt that I could lose my mother or my sister. It was very heavy and difficult.”
They left for Damascus to escape the earthquake. But even away, Aya says she was dizzy for hours, as if the earthquake was still happening. “It was like a wound was being reopened. A big wound that was slowly healing, but then reopened again,” she says, referring to more than a decade of civil war.
For Salloum, the earthquake also brought him back to the worst days of the war: the bombing of opposition-controlled east Aleppo. “I felt that death was near,” he says. “I kept hearing buildings and rocks collapsing.”
He describes the chaos of the first few moments of the earthquake, hearing people panic and screaming for help. “I couldn’t understand what was going on. It’s been a tough day and there’s no end in sight.”
This text was originally published here.
With a wealth of experience honed over 4+ years in journalism, I bring a seasoned voice to the world of news. Currently, I work as a freelance writer and editor, always seeking new opportunities to tell compelling stories in the field of world news.