By Khalil Ashawi
JANDARIS, Syria (Reuters) – Lying bandaged in a makeshift shelter with his surviving infant daughter, Abdulrahman Ali al-Mahmoud laments the loss of his wife and other baby girl after their house in Syria’s Jandaris was flattened in Monday’s earthquake.
“My young daughter died in my arms and my wife died next to me,” said Mahmoud, his arm in a sling and his face still marked from the debris that fell as the family house collapsed, killing his wife Sahar.
Mahmoud and his other daughter, a toddler who sat near him in a pink jacket wiping her eyes, were rescued by his wife’s brother Salah al-Haji al-Akab, who pulled them out along with the bodies of his sister and infant niece.
Mahmoud and his daughter are now in a temporary shelter, held up with sticks and with blankets for walls. He took his daughter’s body to the hospital, but in the chaos he does not know who buried her or where.
“We were asking. We wanted to bury her next to her mother. No one was answering,” he said, his voice shaking.
Just a few miles from the border with Turkey, Jandaris suffered extensive damage from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, with drone footage showing many of its buildings collapsed and others with caved-in walls or roofs.
“It feels like a nightmare that we woke up from and found everything in ruins,” said Akab, standing on the immense pile of rubble that was once Mahmoud’s home.
Overnight, rescue workers had struggled in the darkness, guided by their headlamps and the beams from mechanical diggers as they worked to save survivors from the wreckage of Jandaris.
Yet because Jandaris is located in a rebel-held region of northwest Syria that no outside aid has reached, battered survivors of the earthquake have been left more vulnerable to the bitter winter cold.
A senior U.N. aid official said on Wednesday that cross-border relief work into northwestern Syria could resume on Thursday.
LINES OF BODIES
Northwest Syria is home to thousands of Syrians from other parts of the country who fled because of fighting or fear of reprisals after the government recaptured rebel-held areas elsewhere in the country.
Mahmoud, Akab and their family were originally from the eastern city of Deir al-Zor but had relocated to Jandaris. Including his dead wife and daughter, Mahmoud lost 20 family members in the earthquake, he said.
“My friends and the people I was raised with, everyone is gone. Who will make up for them? How do I build a whole new life?” he said.
Mahmoud had gone to the bathroom when the earthquake struck and ran back inside to get his family but the house collapsed around them. His brother-in-law Akab, who lived nearby, came and heard them shouting.
“We are going to be living in a different reality. Our friends are gone. All our neighbours are gone. I don’t think we want to live anymore,” Akab said as he searched in the rubble of the collapsed building for any more sign of survivors.
At the cemetery, diggers had scratched out long trenches in the ground to bury the lines of bodies lying wrapped in white shrouds.
As a body was passed down into a grave where Mahmoud’s family was buried, a man intoned “there is no God but God”.
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Angus MacSwan)