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Death stalks quake-hit town in northern Syria

A Syrian man weeps following the death of his infant son an earthquake in the town of Jandairis, in the countryside of Syria's northwestern city of Afrin in the rebel-held part of Aleppo province
— Jandairis (Syria) (AFP)

In the quake-devastated town of Jandairis in northern Syria, a dazed father cradles the body of his lifeless baby, saying over and over again, "Wake up, my boy, wake up."

"Ya Allah, ya Allah (My God, my God...)" he sobs, kissing the infant's head. "They have torn my heart out."

Dozens of homes in Jandairis crumpled like a house of cards in this town on the border with Turkey when the earth began to shake at 4:17 am (0117 GMT) on Monday.

Residents used their bare hands and pickaxes to search the rubble for survivors, as that was all they had to get the job done.

"My whole family is under there -- my sons, my daughter, my son-in-law... There's no one else to get them out," says Ali Battal, his face streaked with blood and head swathed in a wool shawl against the bitter cold.

"I hear their voices. I know they're alive but there's no one to rescue them," adds the man in his sixties.

Monday's pre-dawn earthquake, with its epicentre in southern Turkey, came as a winter storm raged in the region.

Fearing continued aftershocks, panicked residents have stayed outside in the cold ever since.

- 'He's alive!' -

Residents retrieve an injured girl from the rubble of a collapsed building following an earthquake in the town of Jandairis

In another street, civilians and fighters have managed to pull out from under a collapsed roof a man they thought was dead.

"He's alive!" they cry when they see the man is still breathing.

Nearby, outside what was once a building, a young man in a state of shock holds his nephew in his arms.

He too is still alive, but the young man, named Samer al-Saraqbi, has lost 12 of his family members, including his mother, his sister and her family in the earthquake.

Among them as well, his surviving nephew Ahmad -- just seven years old -- has lost both parents and three of his siblings.

"Their mother and father will never come back," sobs Saraqbi.

"I can't believe what's happened, my brother handled the family affairs," he says, referring to Ahmad's father.

"God be praised," repeats the dazed young man as he wanders through the ruins.

- 'It's a catastrophe' -

A Syrian man carries the body of an infant who was killed in an earthquake in the town of Jandairis

Across Jandairis, similar scenes repeat themselves.

An AFP photographer says 40 homes were destroyed in this locality alone, which is under the control of pro-Turkey rebels.

Injured people recovered from the rubble are being treated on the spot in the streets or in private cars as hospitals in the region are overflowing.

There is no power supply after the quake, and residents queue for bread outside the only bakery that is still open.

According to the White Helmets civil defence group that operates in rebel-held areas of northern Syria, the death toll in the area is at least 430.

"Our children, our wives, our elderly are all under the ruins. It's a catastrophe," says Majed Nassari, hitting his head in despair.

He appeals to the "conscience of the world" for help.

"We'll need a month, maybe even three months, to recover our dead from the rubble," he says.