Last night, as my wife and I were getting ready for bed, she started receiving voice messages from her family back in Aleppo, Syria. It was just after 3 a.m. their time, so it could not have been good news, and it wasn’t. They were out on the street, woken up in the middle of the night to their home swaying and the glass of the windows shattering under a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.
The fear in their voice reminded me of how they sounded years ago, when a shell had struck their building. “We were terrified, were terrified, so, so much,” one of her relatives said, her voice shaking. “May nobody ever experience it.”
Other messages started to trickle in from family members of our staff: some in Beirut, some in Damascus. Fortunately, the damage there has been limited.
As for my wife’s family, they spent the night in their car, like many others. They will probably do the same tonight, too, but they’ll have to brave their broken home again to get some blankets. It snowed last week in Aleppo, and there’s no gasoline and barely any electricity to keep people warm even when they’re inside their homes. Videos and images from her neighborhood, its surroundings and other parts of northern and northwestern Syria, as well as southern Turkey, showed buildings collapsing like houses of cards, the screams accentuating their disappearance in clouds of dust and smoke. A citizen journalist from Idlib posted a video, his breath steaming in the cold, of a building that had collapsed and claimed the lives of an entire family.
We spent the night checking in on friends and relatives in Syria and Turkey, where two large earthquakes last night led to a combined death toll of at least 2,300 as of Monday morning. The horror was palpable in the panicked voices of man, woman and child who broadcast images and called for help in places that had long suffered man-made cruelties and were now under assault by nature too, their plight exacerbated by years of conflict, neglect and corruption. [Continue reading…]