Jandaris, Syria – Hundreds of families who lost their homes when two earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria are sleeping in tents in harsh winter conditions in Jandaris, a town in rebel-held northwestern Syria.
Many homes in the town collapsed and other residential buildings buckled in Monday’s quakes, sending residents fleeing for open ground.
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“These children have done nothing wrong to be forced to live in these conditions or bear worries that are so much bigger than they are,” says Samaher Rashid, a 47-year-old mother of 10 children, all of whom survived the earthquakes.
The family has taken shelter in a tent in a field just outside the town.
“When the earthquake hit, I didn’t know what was happening except that the house began to shake violently and the floor of the house began to tilt downwards, so I screamed loudly to get all my children out of the house,” Samaher says.
Now, she tries to spend most of every day with her children, trying to distract them from the situation.
“These children cannot bear what happened, and I think I have to stay near them, smiling and playing so that they don’t think about things that would bother them,” Samaher says. “When night falls and my children sleep, I break down and cry as I wonder how we are going to find a house to live in again so they can be spared the cold of this tent.”
The family, Samaher says, lacks a lot of necessities like heaters, firewood, blankets and baby formula.
The death toll in Turkey and Syria rose above 22,000 on Friday. At least 19,388 deaths have been confirmed in Turkey and 3,553 in Syria. Authorities say they expect the death toll to keep rising as search and recovery operations continue.
The Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, says search and rescue operations are continuing in Jandaris. It said 513 people have been killed there and 813 wounded people have been rescued from under its rubble.
The town is close to the border with Turkey and has a sizeable population of Syrians displaced from other parts of the country as a result of its 12-year war.
‘I lost everything’
Nashaat Muhammad Raslan, 35, who is married with three children, says his family home was destroyed.
“I lost everything I owned, everything in my house, which has become rubble,” he says. “I don’t know what will happen to me and my family.”
Muhammad told Al Jazeera how he and his family rushed out of their house during the earthquake with only the clothes on their backs. They didn’t even have time to grab blankets to protect themselves from the cold.
They went to a camp for displaced people near Salqin, a town also near the Turkish border. One of Muhammad’s relatives lives there, and he hoped to find a place to stay. Eventually, they moved to a camp set up for earthquake survivors.
“Here in the camp, we don’t have the most basic necessities of life, especially food, blankets and heating materials, so I will go back to my relatives’ tent to sleep there,” Muhammad says.
“The size of this disaster we are going through is larger than we can bear here in northern Syria, so we need everything,” he says. “We need urgent international intervention to at least set up shelters for the hundreds of families whose homes have been destroyed or are no longer habitable.”
On Thursday, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces held a news conference in the city of Azaz in the northern countryside of Aleppo province to discuss the earthquake’s impact on areas controlled by the Syrian opposition and the disaster response by the international community and international organisations.
The head of the coalition, Haitham Rahma, said the number of collapsed buildings in opposition-controlled areas is more than 400 and the number of damaged buildings exceeds 1,300.
There remains a shortage of food and heating supplies in the rebel-held region, especially with a three-day delay in UN aid entering the region from Turkey.
“We suffer primarily from a severe shortage of support to secure heating materials and due to the border crossing with Turkey being closed,” said Yasser Tarraf, an official in the Al-Ameen Organization for Humanitarian Support. “There is a shortage of the basics including food baskets like legumes and oils that are not available in the markets in northern Syria.”