Jinderes, Syria – More than 50 hours since two devastating earthquakes struck northwestern Syria and southern Turkey, civil defence members and rescue teams are still working around the clock in an attempt to rescue people still stuck under the collapsed buildings.
Numbers are expected to continue to rise, with a vast area affected, and hundreds of families still stuck under the debris.
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Residential complexes, which were recently built to accommodate those who were forcefully displaced from government-controlled areas of Syria to the opposition-controlled northwest of the country during the now almost 12-year war, were completely destroyed. Older, residential neighbourhoods in Salqin and Harem in the Idlib countryside, as well as al-Atareb and Jenderez in Aleppo were also ruined.
Saria Bitar, a civil engineer and head of Hathi Hayati Volunteering Group in the northern city of Idlib told Al Jazeera that the infrastructure of the buildings in Syria were not equipped to handle earthquakes, especially strong ones.
He added that old buildings in Syria were built without considering the occurrence of natural disasters. Some structures survived, but those had engineers that supervised the construction and made sure they matched international criteria.
“The first reason for the quick collapse of the buildings in the Idlib and Aleppo countrysides is the violent attacks these cities suffered, with all kinds of heavy weapons over the past 10 years,” Bitar said, referring to Syria’s war.
“In eastern Aleppo, which previously suffered the worst types of strikes by the [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad regime, the destroyed buildings already had weak infrastructure,” he explained.
Another reason for the collapse of the buildings in northwestern Syria has been attributed to the absence of technical and engineering regulations, Bitar continued.
One such example is the absence of a sufficient number of metal rods in the buildings’ foundations, as well as not digging the foundations deep enough to ensure that they will be sturdy.
In the town of Jinderes, near Afrin in the Aleppo countryside, the local council announced that the area was now a disaster zone after suffering major destruction. Whole residential multistorey buildings had collapsed, and tens of families are still stuck under the debris.
Osama al-Yahya is one of the survivors that was rescued from under the rubble of his destroyed house.
“The moment the earthquake happened, my house immediately collapsed,” he said. “We remained under the debris for an hour and a half until we were saved by the rescue teams in Jinderes.”
Al-Yahya’s family, who were previously displaced from the town of Has in southern Idlib, are now sheltering in a tent on the border of Jinderes. But the 40-year-old refused to stay in the tent and decided to come back to the town to help the civil defence teams and other civilians rescuing families still trapped under the debris.
“The rescue teams are no longer able to save the families stuck under the debris because there is no equipment that is able to lift the collapsed ceilings, especially since most of the collapsed buildings were either four or five floors high,” al-Yahya said.
“The situation is disastrous. Hundreds of families are still stuck and we do not know when we will reach them. I alone was able to take out 23 bodies from under the debris, including my neighbours and friends.”
A feeling of helplessness and being let down by the international community has developed, as the families in the area said the world has left them alone in a crisis that countries cannot face alone.
Abu Muhammed, another resident in Jinderes, said, “It is not rational to lift the roofs of the houses of a whole town by ourselves. For two days, we and the rescue teams have been working on saving the families from under the debris and no international party has moved to help.”
Abu Muhammed told Al Jazeera that dozens of families could have stayed alive if heavy equipment had been available, but they all died due to the extreme cold and being cut off from food and water.
“We call on the whole world to help us save whoever remains of our families,” he said.
If you want to learn about how to donate to the Turkey and Syria earthquake disaster response, go here