The quake also leveled buildings in Turkey, where the government reported at least 1,014 people killed and more than 7,000 injured. In regions of Syria held by President Bashar al-Assad’s government, 371 were killed and more than 1,000 injured, according to state media, mostly in Latakia, Hama, Aleppo and Tartus.
In northwestern Syria, buildings had already suffered extensive damage during the course of a nearly 12-year conflict.
“What makes it more dangerous is that the bombing has affected the buildings, which have almost destroyed infrastructure,” the White Helmets representative said, speaking on the condition of anonymity per the policy of the group, referencing bombardment of rebel-held areas from the Syrian government and its ally Russia.
The group, which operates in rebel-held Syria, says it is also having problems accessing damaged areas because of heavy rain and snowfall. Its teams are facing blocked roads and anticipating an intense rainstorm. They are calling on the international community to pressure Assad and Moscow not to bombard the area.
In a pleading voice note sent on WhatsApp later Monday, the representative begged foreign countries and international organizations to offer the northwest help.
The White Helmets media representative repeatedly described the worsening situation as a “disaster” and “disastrous”, emphasizing the lack of hyperbole in his choice of words. All White Helmets volunteers and members “are not capable of responding; the size of the disaster is far larger than our abilities.” An adequate response requires urgent international intervention, he said.
As he continued speaking, his voice thinned with urgency as a list of calamities tumbled out. “Every minute, we lose a life. We are now racing with time. We need heavy equipment, we need heavy machinery dedicated for rescue missions. We need rescue teams. We need fuel. We have been using up backup fuel for the past two months.”
“Tens of thousands of civilians are homeless,” he continued. “The medical situation is abysmal. Tens of thousands of buildings are now cracked. There’s a snowstorm. There’s predictions of flooding in the area. The humanitarian situation is disastrous, with every meaning of the word. It’s not just the rescue — it’s the rescue and the humanitarian situation.”
Syria’s northwest is home to roughly 4.5 million people — nearly all, 4.1 million, require humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations. Medical care is scant, as is solid infrastructure following years of bombardment by government forces and their Russian allies.
Half of the population has been dislocated from elsewhere, many several times. Large numbers live in tent camps or rickety settlements, often built among olive groves or on hard, barren earth. Many live in bombed-out buildings abandoned during the war.
In a statement, the International Rescue Committee aid organization said the impact of the earthquake was devastating for areas already hosting high numbers of displaced and vulnerable families. Overstretched by a recent cholera outbreak and grappling with a snap of freezing cold weather, the area is experiencing a crisis within multiple crises, according to the IRC.
“There are very real concerns about the ability of an already decimated health system to cope,” the IRC statement said.
The area also does not have enough doctors — which is especially apparent during calamities — and many of its hospitals and health centers have been destroyed. Hospitals have been repeatedly bombarded by airstrikes from Assad’s forces or his those of his Russian allies, which often provided air cover during the war.
On Monday, the Syrian American Medical Society, which supports 36 facilities in northwestern Syria, said four of its hospitals were damaged and evacuated.
“The conditions in our hospitals are catastrophic,” it said by WhatsApp. A video posted to social media by officials at the society, which The Washington Post was not able to immediately verify, appeared to show medical workers and civilians crowded in an emergency ward at Bab al-Hawa Hospital, in the country’s northwest.
Victims were filling the hallways, and there weren’t enough trauma supplies and equipment to save survivors or treat the injured, the group said in a statement Monday.
In government-held areas, a parallel rescue operation was underway early Monday. Assad convened an emergency meeting and ordered the cash-strapped government to distribute food and medical assistance to those in need, as well as assess the stability of cracked buildings across the country, according to a post on his official Telegram channel.
*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.