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Maryland doctor helpless as parents, in-laws are trapped in southern Turkey


The images out of Syria and southern Turkey were heartbreaking as Houssam al-Nahhas monitored the earthquake damage from his home in suburban Maryland.

But the devastation really hit home when he finally heard from his parents and in-laws in southern Turkey, all of whom had nowhere to go after the temblor severely damaged their homes.

On Monday, Nahhas — who worked as an emergency trauma physician and aid worker in Syria and Turkey before immigrating to the United States in 2019 — listened helplessly as his mother-in-law described during a short telephone call how she and her husband had been sheltering in their car since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck early Monday.

They had escaped while debris was falling around them, he said. “She was crying,” Nahhas said. “She was saying: ‘What can we do? Are we going to stay in the car? And for how long?’”

Nahhas, now a researcher for Physicians for Human Rights, had few solid answers — much like the Turkish government, which is stretched thin by the devastation.

He knew from his time in Syria that it will take a massive international humanitarian effort to rescue the thousands of people who may still be trapped beneath rubble and recover the bodies of thousands more who have died.

As of Monday, the death toll in the quake and series of powerful aftershocks had climbed past 3,800.

Many of those affected had been displaced by Syria’s civil war and were living in refugee camps or already crumbling buildings in parts of that country where there wasn’t much government assistance to speak of, if any. Across the border in Turkey, what used to be a refuge for those fleeing families has become a disaster zone.

With internet service still out and a winter storm blowing in, “we still have not heard the worst of these earthquakes,” said Nahhas, who specializes in health issues affecting the Middle East and North Africa.

“We don’t know if there will be other earthquakes,” he said.

In new reports and social media feeds, “all we hear about is entire families who died under the rubble and people who are still missing,” he said.

That news makes his own family’s situation all the more urgent to Nahhas.

Both sets of parents are in their 60s. Although the Turkish government and the scores of nongovernmental organizations assisting in the rescue effort have begun converting mosques and cultural centers into shelters, “it’s just not enough to cover everyone,” Nahhas said.

For now, the plan is to keep his parents and in-laws from trying to return to their homes, where it’s clearly not safe, he said.

For a doctor who is used to jumping into action after such mass-casualty disasters, the whole situation is frustrating, he said.

“We are thousands of miles away from them, unable to reassure them, support them, do anything for them,” Nahhas said. “They cannot leave the city. They cannot get back home. It’s freezing now, with one of the worst winter storms hitting the region. It’s a whole bunch of challenges that they are facing.”

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.