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Already displaced by war, Syrians search earthquake rubble for loved ones

Residents of northwest Syria, most of whom found refuge in the area after fleeing the bombing in their hometowns during the war, found themselves facing a new catastrophe following Monday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake.
The village of Bibsna, located on the Syrian-Turkish border, was almost completely destroyed by the earthquake, and rescue teams are trying to recover the victims and treat the wounded, Feb. 6, 2023.

IDLIB — Northwestern Syria is a disaster area after being struck at dawn on Monday by one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the region in decades, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale. The earthquake was concentrated in the areas of southern Turkey and northern Syria, causing a humanitarian catastrophe that left thousands of dead and wounded.

Thousands of homes were destroyed and many residents were displaced.

The Syrian Civil Defense, a group of Syrian rescue workers that operate in rebel-held territories, announced in a statement a state of emergency in northwest Syria and called on international organizations to intervene quickly to provide relief to the afflicted and meet their needs.

According to statistics by the Syrian Civil Defense and local medical centers late on Monday, at least 700 people died as a result of the earthquake and more than 2,000 were injured in Syria. The toll is expected to rise as rescue teams continue searching for those trapped under the rubble.

The village of Besnaya, near the town of Harem in the northwest part of Idlib province, located on the Syrian-Turkish border, was almost completely destroyed by the earthquake. A residential complex of 140 apartments completely collapsed, and families were still inside the building the moment it was toppled.

(Al-Monitor/Ahmad Fallaha)

Muhammad Abu al-Nour, 37, from the southern countryside of Idlib is still searching for his uncle and his family.

“I traveled a long distance to check on my uncle and his family here [in Besnaya], but I was surprised by the destruction that occurred here. I haven't been able to see any of them," Muhammad told Al-Monitor. 

“After eight hours of searching, we were able to find a member of my uncle's family, but he was dead. I am still searching for the rest of the family," he adds.

"Houses are stacked on top of each other, and people are trying with all their might to get those trapped under the rubble out.”

Meanwhile, officials warned of further devastation that may be caused by the aftershocks of the earthquake and called on civilians to remain outside their homes, as successive tremors are being recorded nearly every half hour. 

“At about 4:30 a.m. on Monday, I felt a strong earthquake. I immediately woke my family up, and we headed out of the house because we felt that it was collapsing. And here it is,” Anas Abu Ahmad, 48, a displaced person who hails from the southern countryside of Aleppo, told Al-Monitor, as he pointed to his home, now a pile of rubble. 

He lived in a housing project for those internally displaced in northwest Syria. Almost half of the region's 4.5 million inhabitants have become internally displaced in the last decade of the Syrian war. 

“A housing project for the displaced was completely destroyed by the earthquake, and all its residents are still under the rubble,” Anas added.

(Al-Monitor/Ahmad Fallaha)

“This is the first time in my life that I witness such devastation caused by an earthquake. I have seen many types of bombing, but this time, it’s completely different. It is more like total destruction, and our region has turned into a disaster-stricken area. We ask the international community and international organizations to intervene quickly to support these war-weary people and the displaced," he added. 

UNICEF said in a press release earlier today that the lives of thousands of children are at risk after the earthquakes that struck the region. “That the initial earthquake happened so early in the morning, when many children were fast asleep, made it even more dangerous, and the aftershocks bring continuing risks,” said UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell in the press release.

Meanwhile, a heavy storm currently passing through the area is making the situation even worse for the affected.

The total death toll from the earthquake has so far exceeded 2,700.

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