Cold, fear and grief pervade in Aleppo as locals step-in to rescue survivors

Cold, fear and grief pervade in Aleppo as locals step-in to rescue survivors
In the aftermath of Monday's devastating earthquakes which hit northern Syria, many Aleppo residents are still out in the cold days later.
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Ghayath Zarzour who was injured in the earthquake with family members in a make-shift shelter in Aleppo province after being left homeless after the earthquake [Rami Al Sayed/AFP via Getty]

Three days after massive earthquakes hit northern Syria at dawn on Monday, Syrians in regime- and Kurdish-held parts of Aleppo province are still working in freezing conditions to recover survivors and the dead trapped under the rubble.

Many have tried to return to their homes, to retrieve clothes, blankets, and medicine after a delay in the arrival of desperately needed humanitarian aid with many in Aleppo living in schools and government buildings, designated as emergency shelters by authorities.

Marwan Sukkari, from Aleppo city, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site: "Most of the city's residents spent their second night in the freezing cold, waiting for news on relatives who have been stuck under the rubble since the earthquake."

While his family was safe from the quake, his house had "completely collapsed, along with the buildings on either side".

As the death toll grows by the day, and the chances of finding survivors become slimmer, most of the region's population is desperately seeking information on the fates of family members or checking whether their homes survived the earthquakes and tremors.

Rescue teams, made up of locals, have struggled to reach survivors trapped under the rubble, while the regime shipped residents from heavily-damaged neighbourhoods to safer areas.

A source close to the rescue teams in Aleppo, who preferred not to be named, said: "The rescue teams have moved many families to government buildings and schools for their protection against the cold, especially children, women and elderly."

NGOs were giving them support and 125 government buildings had been designated as shelters, alongside churches and mosques, they added.

Many instead chose to remain in their collapsed homes, waiting for news on their loved ones who are still stuck under the ruins.

Aleppo Mayor Maad al-Madlaji warned that dozens of buildings were still at risk of collapsing and that committees have been sent to assess the safety of structures.

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Algerian rescue teams are involved in search operations in the Adhamiyah, Salaheddine, and Sheikh Maqsood districts of Aleppo, while scores of civilians are attempting to remove rubble with their bare hands to extract survivors amid freezing conditions.

Syrian civil activist Hadi Azzam travelled to Aleppo, alongside a doctor and nurse, to offer support to those affected by the quake.

"The situation in Aleppo is a disaster – children, women and the sick are spending their nights out in the cold and rain," he said.

Waleed Haj Hamdo, an Aleppo resident, said: "Groups of ordinary people have been supporting each other, dividing what food and water they have, without waiting for the slow response - which won't be enough to meet the scale of the calamity. Local organisations have also been distributing meals in some of the shelters."

"Cold, fear, and grief" pervade the shelters, Azzam said, while "Aleppo needs aid supplies and specialists in aid provision".

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There are fears that other quakes and aftershocks could occur in the coming days.

"All this is added to the fact that many of Aleppo's buildings are extremely old, and many have suffered damage in past bombardments, before the earthquake. In addition to this, there are hundreds of unsafe buildings where residents were advised to evacuate before the earthquake by the municipality, but people didn't due to a lack of alternative [accomodation]."

Local sources also mentioned that thousands of university students have been stuck on campus in West Aleppo, seeking refuge in the college courtyards and faculties due to a lack of transport options available to them.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.