'There's death everywhere': Syrian families tell of horrors after Turkey-Syria earthquake

Displaced people say the disaster has made their bad situation worse

Wael Mishal, a father of five from the Idlib province had  to run out in to pouring rain when the earthquake hit Northwest Syria.
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For families in north-west Syria, an area that has been battered by years of civil war, the deadly quake comes on top of unbearable living conditions.

The death toll from the 7.8 magnitude quake that struck near Turkey’s border with Syria has reached at least 4,000, with rescue workers pulling out more bodies from the rubble.

The displaced have spoken to The National about the horrors they experienced when one of the worst earthquakes in decades hit the region early on Monday.

Many of my friends are missing. Hospitals are overflowing with the dead and wounded. There is death everywhere around us
Wael Mishal, 42

Wael Mishal, a father of five from the largely rebel-held Idlib province, said it seems like there is no end to their misery.

“We have had horrors after horrors; wars after wars. And, now this [earthquake is here] to wreck our lives again,” said Mr Mishal, 42, an English teacher, who fled Palmyra in 2017 after ISIS overran the city.

He currently lives in the Atta camp, one of dozens of camps that house millions of Syrian families displaced by the country’s civil war. Syria has the world’s largest displacement crisis, with more than 13 million of its population either moved on by fighting or having fled from the 11-year-long civil war, according to the UN.

Mr Mishal said he ran out of the building into pouring rain when the earthquake hit the impoverished neighbourhood.

“I was jolted from my sleep early in the morning, and the whole place started shaking. It was raining but we grabbed our jackets and ran out. All I could do was pray to Allah and ask him to keep my family safe.

“There were hundreds of families out on the street, as they have nowhere to take refuge. Those with cars stayed inside their vehicles for hours. Others had no choice but endure the rain and cold.

“Many of my friends are missing. Hospitals are overflowing with the dead and wounded. There is death everywhere around us.”

Mr Mishal said the only comfort is that his children are not panicking, sadly because they have experienced worse.

“I once fled Palmyra with my family. It was a long, miserable journey across the desert with four children. Smugglers moved us from one place to another for weeks before we reached Idlib safely.

“We endured the worst in those years and lived in a small tent with my four children. We have endured rockets and air strikes on a daily basis. We have had enough.”

Mustafa Hambasho, 54, a taxi driver from Aleppo, told The National that the situation in his neighbourhood is tragic.

“People are scared. They ran out to the street to save their lives. They still fear staying indoors because aftershocks are still happening.

“Lots of people lost their homes as many buildings have collapsed in the earthquake. Cars parked on the streets got crushed by falling buildings. There is severe damage everywhere.

“The worst part is this happened when people were sleeping. They did not have time to prepare.”

One aftershock after another

Bilind Arafat, 22, from Latakia, a port city in Syria that was hit by the earthquake, told The National that there were several aftershocks “one after the other”.

“It took me a few seconds to understand what was happening. The whole building was shaking. And in the next minute there was utter panic,” said Mr Arafat, a medical student.

He remembered the first quake was the strongest and it lasted “almost a minute”.

“Then there was another one, then another one, then again and again.

“I was awake at 4am and could hear loud screams. There were women and children crying out and running out into the street.

“We stood outside for three hours because everyone was scared to go back in. What if there were more aftershocks? That was our worry.”

Mr Arafat said many buildings have collapsed in his Mashrou Al Baath neighbourhood.

“Many people are missing and neighbours are picking through the rubble to see if there are people trapped under it.

“Luckily, there is not much damage to our four-storey building and we are back home now. But everyone is scared.”

Offers of aid have poured in from across the world, including from the UAE, the EU, Russia and Israel, with US President Joe Biden saying the US will provide “any and all” needed assistance.

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