Northern Syria, already ravaged by war, is desperate for aid after the earthquake
Updated February 11, 2023 at 9:47 AM ET
JINDERIS, Syria — Mohammed Juma sleeps on the heap of rubble that crushed his family as he survived. In the freezing nights, the 20-year-old and others in this town — still dazed and in shock — burn possessions found in the debris for heat.
For five days they've been waiting for help. None has come.
In neighboring Turkey, roads are gridlocked by the trucks that bring everything from excavators, to food and blankets and medicines into the earthquake disaster zone. Thousands of tons of aid has poured in from countries around the world. The arrival of special equipment to detect those still trapped under the rubble means that — days after the earthquake — lives are still being saved.
By contrast, across the border in the northwest of Syria, residents of the town of Jinderis heard the screams of those trapped under the rubble but, without the right machinery and equipment, were powerless to save them.
Now, the voices have fallen silent.
"We don't understand. Why are we alone?" asked Mahmoud Hafar, the mayor of Jinderis.
On a rare visit to this rebel-held enclave of a country broken and isolated by more than a decade of civil war, NPR saw no international crews of rescuers; no trucks loaded with machinery or medical aid; no streams of ambulances to save the wounded. The border crossing into Syria was empty and silent.
Mohammed Juma said his wife, Alia, and his two children — 20-month old Ali and 6-month old Hussein — were alive after their home collapsed on top of them. Juma and his neighbors pulled at the shattered concrete for hours until their hands bled, but the effort was futile.
Now the Syrian civil defense teams are using the few excavators they do have to recover the dead. On Friday morning in Jinderis, at least 850 bodies had been pulled from the rubble. Zakaria Tabakh, 26, remembers cuddling his son, 2-year-old Abdulhadi, to sleep and laying him in his bed, where he was killed by the falling debris. Tabakh's wife died in the bed beside him. He said that few friends were able to come to the burial because they were too busy burying their own loved ones.
At one site, excavators lifted huge chunks of concrete and twisted iron bars, in search for a 13-year-old boy. Hundreds more people are missing.
The earthquake is only the latest cruelty to befall the people of this region.
Many of the 4.6 million residents had fled here from other parts of the country, searching for safety from the barrel bombs and airstrikes of the Syrian regime and its ally, Russia.
After years of war, they've been left with nothing. Tens of thousands now live with almost no access to basic services in makeshift tents set up in the olive groves where the mud clogs and weighs down the legs of children playing outside.
Even before this earthquake, the United Nations said 4.1 million people were in need of humanitarian aid. The Syrian regime considers bringing aid to these opposition-held areas across the border from Turkey a violation of its sovereignty. The government, along with its allies Russia and China, have repeatedly vetoed votes at the U.N. Security Council to maintain more aid routes into Syria from Turkey.
Aid convoys are allowed only through one border point, Bab al-Hawa. But the roads between the U.N. supply hub in Turkey and this border point were damaged in the earthquake, so for several days other, open, border crossings with Syria remained unused and no aid came.
Less than one hour's drive from one of the open border crossings, the town of Sawran now has no running water. On one side of the main street is the destroyed home of the Turki family, where nine people, including five children died. Across the road a family of seven were killed. Neighbors said they had moved to Sawran after fleeing their home in Khan Sheikhoun, where in 2017 the Syrian government attacked the population with the nerve agent Sarin, killing 89 people.
"The world left us to our own destiny facing the criminal Bashar al-Assad. But this is a natural disaster," said Ibahim Bakkour, a local council member. "There's no political argument here; it's a humanitarian situation and we need help."
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