Syria earthquakes: “The disaster is still ongoing.”

An MSF team member who survived the earthquakes describes her experience

Destruction from the earthquake in Idlib province, Syria, on February 7, 2023.

Samar is a health promotion supervisor for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in northwestern Syria. She and her family woke up on February 6 feeling the terrifying effects of the earthquakes that have killed more than 46,000 people and injured more than 78,000. Her immediate family survived, but what they found outside their home was devastating. Here, Samar shares her story.

When the first quake occurred, I was home in A’zaz with my husband, son, and daughter. We live on the second floor. We were asleep when the earthquakes happened. My husband felt it and woke me up. I carried my daughter, and my husband carried my son. We ran out of the house in our pajamas, barefoot and terrified. It felt like doomsday.

People were crammed and running in crowds. We could no longer feel anything other than fear, terror, shivering, and rain. My children were shaking in front of me. We had no clue what needed to be done. We had to make sure our relatives in other areas were safe, but our building was toppling and swaying before us—we felt so many things.

Balconies were falling on cars and destroying them. People were running away, holding their children.

We drove away and waited. We kept hearing about aftershocks occurring until dawn. At dawn, my family called me from Damascus to ask if something had happened to us. They said my uncle’s family passed away. My family, who is far away from the earthquakes, knew this before we did.

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Syrians dig through the rubble left by the earthquake in northwest Syria in 2023.

The internet connection and the electricity went out. We could hardly use the networks to check up on the people we know. We didn't find out until around 9 AM. I told my husband that we must go to Jinderis, one of the most affected areas, along with the areas in Atarib and the outskirts of Idlib. I told him that we had to go there because a lot of people died and all the people from my hometown live there.

We got ready with the kids and left within 15 minutes. We had to change our clothes, which were stained by the rain and dirt. When we arrived in Jinderis, it was horrific. All the buildings had collapsed. From the outskirts of the city, not a single building was spared. People were under the rubble.

Witnessing this horrific scene, it was impossible to think that anyone would make it out of the buildings. We went to my uncle’s house. We could barely get there because of the rubble. My nephew’s daughter, her sister, their sisters-in-law, our relatives, were all killed. The ones who survived were shocked and did not understand what was happening.

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Earthquake in Idleb governorate

Then, we felt another shock. I saw the building in front of us shaking and almost falling. We all got into the car and drove away, to where there were tents and people we knew. We sat in a tent, in the middle of heavy rain and mud.

We lived in a region that was not as affected and we were terrified, so I can’t imagine how the people who lived through the destruction felt. Many parents were burying their children. Others were under the rubble. No family was spared. Every family lost one or several loved ones.

It’s taking time to get people out. There isn’t enough machinery. My husband rushed to help the civil defense save people from under the rubble. He goes there every day now. Our friends are also helping. The MSF health team that I supervise is also helping in Jinderis. Everyone has relatives there. Even if they don’t, they go to help, as no one else is helping clear the rubble.

The MSF team also coordinated with the logistics team to distribute tents and clothes. They prepared them and went to Jinderis for the distribution. Essential kits were distributed to the people there. The team worked until late at night. I was not able to help or contribute to their work, as I’m alone with the kids, and far away from home.

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Earthquake Northwestern Syria, 7 February 2023

I’m still shocked. I can’t come to terms with what happened. The disaster is still ongoing. I can’t bring myself to go back home. We went to the hospital yesterday. My husband's friend's family all died except for one girl. We visited her in the hospital. She told us how they gathered in one place. She headed to the door with her brother. Their younger sister followed them. She told me how the roof fell on top of her father, killing him—how her father said his last words and passed away.

“When the rubble fell, my sister landed underneath me,” the younger sister said. “My sister Tala choked because of me. She was screaming at me to get away from her, but I couldn't. The rubble was on top of me.” The rubble fell on her brother’s leg, amputating it. The girl's legs were broken.

The needs are immense. All people care about now is saving people from under the rubble. Bulldozers and heavy machinery are desperately needed to save people, otherwise it won’t be possible. It's very cold and rainy. People have lost their clothing and money and cannot buy new clothes or heaters, or find shelter. Homes have been destroyed and families have moved to mosques, schools, and shelters. Organizations are working on the ground, but the needs are enormous. If no intervention takes place, the needs cannot be met.

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