After surviving the Syrian war, an earthquake kills most of a father’s family

By Khalil Ashawi

JANDARIS, Syria (Reuters) – Naser al-Wakaa protected his family through years of war, bombing and air raids until Monday’s earthquake struck their home in Jandaris, northwestern Syria, leveling the building and his wife and most of it his family buried under the masonry.

Rescuers pulled two of his children alive from the rubble at night. The video showed her injured and covered in dust. Another child also survived. But his wife and at least five of his children were killed.

Sitting amid the ruins of his home, surrounded by broken concrete and twisted metal, he mourned his loss while holding baby clothes tight to his face. Desperate and confused, he named his children—boys and girls—without saying how many he had.

“The house shook. We’re used to airstrikes. We’re used to rockets, barrel bombs. This is normal for us. But an earthquake is a force majeure,” he said.

“I ran out of the house and said, ‘Please God, let one survive. I only want one of my children,'” he said.

The disaster has killed more than 21,000 people, mostly in Turkey but also more than 3,000 in Syria.

In his hometown of Jandaris, across the border from Turkey in a rebel-held enclave, many houses were destroyed and others partially collapsed. Rescue workers and local residents, sometimes assisted by mechanical excavators, dug into ruins to find survivors.

In another part of the city, rescuers pulled out five-year-old Ahmed Abduljabbar, the sole survivor of his family of six. His adult cousin Ahmed Abu Chehab spent hours lifting broken brickwork to reach him before he was taken to an ambulance.

From his bed in a hospital near the city of Azaz, the boy said, “My father and I were sitting in the living room when I heard the sound of the earthquake.”

The imam who led Friday prayers at a Jandaris mosque struggled to hold back tears as he preached.

A UN agency said 14 aid trucks crossed northwest Syria on Friday, the first outside aid to reach a region held by rebels fighting the Damascus government and among areas hardest hit affected by Monday’s earthquake.

After the quake, Wakaa had called for several of his sons and learned that two boys, Faisal and Mohsin, had both died.

His eldest daughter Heba was also found dead, with her little sister Israa on her lap. Samiha, another sister, was found dead nearby.

Wakaa was holding a piece of paper that had been found in a notebook buried in the rubble. In neat handwriting were the words addressed to her father, “You are in God’s hands and in my heart, Abu Faisal.” Next to it was an inked heart.

At a cemetery, Wakaa watched in sorrow as gravediggers lowered the body of one of his children, draped in white, into a communal grave with other victims of the disaster.

(Reporting by Khalil Ashawil; Writing by Angus McDowall and Andrew Heavens; Editing by Frances Kerry and Edmund Blair)


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