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Turkey and Syria: “The situation before the earthquake was dire, catastrophic – and now it is even more so”

People look on as rescue efforts continue in Belen, Hatay, Turkey following the deadly Feb. 6 earthquake in southeastern Turkey. Photo: Grayscale Media

People look on as rescue efforts continue in Belen, Hatay, Turkey following the deadly Feb. 6 earthquake in southeastern Turkey. Photo: Grayscale Media

Sherine Ibrahim and Ayham Taha have been trying to describe what life has been like in Turkey and Syria since the deadly earthquakes struck the region early Monday morning. But it's hard.

“No matter how much I try to describe it,” Taha said to CNN’s Julia Chatterly, “it is still [nothing] compared to what it is on the ground.”

The quakes and their aftershocks have killed over 11,000 people in the region so far, with the death toll rising every hour. There are thousands of people still vulnerable to collapsing buildings, scarce food, and freezing temperatures.

“Some of the smaller towns have been completely wiped out,” Ibrahim said to Christiane Amanpour. “They are no longer on the map.”

Emergency team members search for people under rubble of a destroyed building in Hatay province on Tuesday, Feb. 8, following Monday's deadly earthquake in southeastern Turkey. Photo: Grayscale Media

Ibrahim and Taha are just two of the CARE staff members working to deliver lifesaving aid and resources to the earthquakes’ victims.

As they’ve described what CARE and its partners have been doing to help the rescue efforts, reporters have repeatedly asked them why – despite the cold and the discomfort – they’re still outside.

“Since the earthquake struck, all of us have found it hard to go back to our homes,” Ibrahim said.

“People feel like it’s safer to be out in the open, in our cars, for the night.”

“I consider myself lucky,” Taha said. “Because my son was born outside of Syria. He never knew, like his cousins, about war, but yesterday I was telling him we should go indoors, it’s warmer, and he said, ‘No. We have earthquakes. We should stay outside.’”

As ambulance sirens continually blared outside his car window, Taha went on.

“Everyone is traumatized, myself included. Kids are severely affected. We can see it on their faces. They cannot express how they feel.”

The rubble and massive destruction caused by the earthquake in Aleppo, Syria. Syria Relief and Development (SRD) is a CARE partner working in Syria. SRD's first responders are on the ground, and 20 ambulances have been deployed to serve those critically injured. Photo: SRD
A car in Aleppo, Syria crushed by the destruction caused by the earthquakes. Photo: SRD

CARE’s on-the-ground teams and partners are trying to help people on both sides of the Turkey-Syria border, and they’ve been particularly worried about what the destruction has done to the already-dire situation in Syria.

“Allepo and Idleb have been the hardest hit,” Ibrahim said. “The reality is the one remaining border crossing is a critical lifeline.”

“Regardless of what the political positions are right now, the humanitarian imperative is far greater than it has ever been before.”

Taha agreed.

“The clock is ticking on both sides of the border. Every minute delayed we might lose the chance to rescue a life.

“This is the situation on both sides of the border.

“Both sides are sharing the same pain.”


Smoke rises from burning containers at the port in the earthquake-stricken town of Iskenderun, Turkey, on Feb. 7. Photo: Grayscale Media

“There is a lot of hope still,” Taha said. “Tents, mattresses, food. Everything counts. Every dollar counts, because one mattress could improve the living condition or the night of that young boy who is sleeping on a floor outdoors.”

The situation is changing by the hour, but CARE Turkey and its partners are prioritizing the delivery essentials like tents, mattresses, blankets, clean drinking water, baby food, and thermal clothing to people seeking refuge from the earthquake and the looming snowstorm. CARE is also preparing for potential influxes of internally displaced persons across northern Syria to areas where CARE and its partners operate.

A man walks past a destroyed building in Belen, Hatay, Turkey following the deadly Feb. 7 earthquake in southeastern Turkey. Photo: Grayscale Media
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