“Sense of sorrow” in Syria following earthquakes

Twin earthquakes in the early hours of 6th February 2023 brought further hardship to a country already gripped by crises.

Two devastating earthquakes struck the areas in northern Syria and southern Türkiye, affecting 19 million people. In the weeks following, more than 11,000 aftershocks were recorded. This disaster has caused immense suffering for the people already dwindling in crises – the impact of the earthquakes were felt across the region.

“I feel a deep sense of sorrow. It could have been me and my family under the rubble” says Ammar.

It is a cold winter morning in early March, in Aleppo, Syria, just after sunrise. I walk through the streets, struck by the destruction surrounding me. The buildings were in ruins, the streets were full of rubble and debris, and there was an overwhelming sense of despair in the air. Amidst the destruction, there was a sound that cut through the silence. Something that made the destruction seem a little less devastating. It was the sound of children playing. The children were running around shouting, laughing and playing, completely oblivious to the to the destruction around them. It was as if they were somewhere where the earthquakes never happened. It was heart-breaking. I know that I can’t bring back what had been lost, but I wanted to do whatever I could to help.

Arriving at the Medair office in Aleppo, I meet Ammar who works in Logistics. He has been living in Aleppo since before the conflict started. Friendly and welcoming, Ammar is willing to talk and answer any questions I have about his life before the conflict, and now after the earthquakes. Ammar offers to take me for a quick spin in the car around the neighborhood.

As we drive around Aleppo, Ammar remembers the vibrant markets, the beautiful streets, and the wonderful food of life before the conflict. He talks about everyday life and the people he used to know. His wife has recently given birth to beautiful twin girls, and he tells me how much being a father means to him.

A collapsed building in Aleppo caused by the devastating Syria - Türkiye earthquakes.

A collapsed residential building one block away from the Azizieh street intersection caused by the devastating impact of the Türkiye – Syria earthquakes on the morning of 6th of February 2023. Photo taken in the Azizieh District, Aleppo, Syria on the 3rd of March 2023. ©Medair/Abdul Dennaoui

As we drive, while Ammar captains the wheel, he tells me, “The day prior to the the earthquakes, I was preparing for a trip to Damascus. On that day, I felt an unusual feeling that I could not identify. The feeling was unsettling, however, I decided to disregard it. Having finished packing, I went out to get some essentials for the trip and met with the Medair team at our base, but the feeling lingered” he says.

A man stands in front of a collapsed building in Aleppo caused by devastating Syria - Türkiye earthquakes.

Ammar, Medair Syria logistics team member stands in front of a collapsed residential building in Azizieh street caused by the Türkiye – Syria earthquakes. Photo taken in the Azizieh District, Aleppo, Syria on the 3rd of March 2023. ©Medair/Abdul Dennaoui

As he speaks, Ammar parks the car. “I live in the area here. Let’s take a quick walk down the street. I want to show you something” he says.

We walk towards a building which has collapsed. The building had no façade, it was all rubble and debris.

“On an ordinary day,” says Ammar, “I would usually park my vehicle in this location here, where you see me standing right now. This is my usual parking spot. Just down the street from where I live. Home is just a short walk away from here. I am fortunate to be standing here today knowing I get to see my family again, every day. Every early morning, I walk here, get in my vehicle, and go to work. However, for some reason on that day (still referring to the day before the earthquakes), aware I was traveling to Damascus, I chose to keep my vehicle parked at work out of convenience, just a couple of blocks down from here. This was God protecting me” he says with a grateful glimpse.

A man points at a street where he lives in Aleppo affected by the devastation of the Syria -Türkiye earthquakes.

Ammar, Medair Syria logistics team member points to the street where his home is located as he stands in front of a collapsed residential building in Azizieh street caused by the Syria -Türkiye earthquakes. Photo taken in the Azizieh District, Aleppo, Syria on the 3rd of March 2023. ©Medair/Abdul Dennaoui

He continues, “Little did I know that a devastating earthquake would soon hit that same night, wreaking havoc and destruction throughout my city. On any given day, it could have been me sitting in my vehicle as a building collapsed on me. ”.

After a brief pause in contemplation, Ammar continues, “In the early morning of February 6, I was asleep at a hotel in Damascus, where our team would be conducting a workshop. I awoke to the sound of a door slamming shut. I was quite disoriented at first, but as I walked to the bathroom, I could feel the floor beneath me shaking. I heard people shouting from behind the door. I knew something wasn’t right. I quickly realized the bathroom door was closed, and I kept it open the night before.”

As the shaking continued, Ammar opened the door to the hallway. “I saw people laying on the floor, taking cover. It didn’t occur to me at first that it was an earthquake, let alone that it caused a disaster back in Aleppo. Taking precautions, I remained on the floor too. Later that morning, we were informed that there had been a massive earthquake, which impacted my city where my family was, alone.”

Ammar describes a feeling of panic when he learned that the earthquake affected Aleppo. “I immediately phoned home but there was no pickup. I phoned my sister next to see if she had any news. I needed to make sure my family was safe and well!”

Eventually Ammar learns that his brother had picked up his wife and children and taken them out of the city. When finally, he speaks with his wife, she is in shock.

“She was terrified. She told me the walls in our home trembled and cracked, swaying side to side during the earthquake. She was on the phone holding our twin babies in both arms. The swaying was accompanied by an unimaginable sound. She described it to me as the sound of the earth splitting and taking everything with it.”

Near their home, buildings had collapsed. Ammar describes his neighbours walking the streets searching for loved ones under the rubble, when the second earthquake struck.

“People were already facing the trauma from the first impact, and when the second one hit, it simply broke them. I know some people that still cannot go near their home because they will relive the trauma of being there during the earthquakes.

I was filled with fear for my family, as I couldn’t be with them throughout this difficult experience. Hearing the fear in my wife’s voice over the phone, shattered me. I was uncertain if there would be more earthquakes, as I was aware of the potential aftershocks. The experience my family must have gone through is beyond comprehension” he says with despair.

As we walk back toward the vehicle, Ammar says, “In my heart is heavy with sadness for the families severely affected by the earthquakes. I constantly remember walking by this building and hearing people experiencing the happy times they had here, the laughter and the joy that had filled the air. But now, all that was gone, taken away in a single moment by a force beyond our control. I feel a deep sense of sorrow. It could have been me and my family under the rubble” he says running his hand down his head. He felt helpless and overwhelmed by the destruction, but he knew he had to help. The drive with Ammar was a humbling experience. Seeing the destruction first-hand was a crucial reminder of how much suffering the people of Aleppo have endured. But it was also a reminder of the strength.

Rubble from a collapsed building on a street in Aleppo caused by the devastating Syria - Türkiye earthquakes.

Rubble from a collapsed residential building caused by the Syria – Türkiye earthquakes partially block the road off in Azizieh street, in the Azizieh District, Aleppo, Syria on the 3rd of March 2023. ©Medair/Abdul Dennaoui


Medair’s earthquake response and services in Aleppo are funded by the Syrian Humanitarian Fund (SHF), Chaine du Bonheur, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and financial support of the European Union. 

This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organization.