On 6th February, powerful earthquakes struck southern and central Turkey and Syria. A disaster that has caused the destruction of entire cities. Many people are missing and thousands have died. Here are two eye witness accounts.
Umberta Fabris, from the focolare of Istanbul, emotionally described the situation in which Turkey finds itself with this unprecedented disaster which struck Turkey and Syria during the night between 5th-6th February:
“On the evening of Sunday 5th February, the authorities announced that the schools would be closed the next day as a violent storm was forecast. Temperatures are near zero and it is the coldest time of the year in Turkey.”
The magnitude of this earthquake is unimaginable. Ten provinces of Turkey are affected, 13 million people are involved and violent tremors continue. To date, there are over 14,000 victims, but the numbers continue to increase as the rescue proceeds.
Umberta Fabris told us, “Istanbul is about 1,000 kms away from the affected areas but we are surrounded by people who have relatives and friends, who are awaiting news that arrives drop by drop. Mobile phones have run out, there is no electricity and there is enormous damage to all the infrastructures including the communications networks. We receive just a few text messages or manage to exchange a few words with a very disturbed line. We keep trying to get news about people, including our friends in Antioch, Mersin, Adana and Iskenderun”.
In the catastrophe of the ruins and the cold, suffering brings people together to respond. Umberta heard about the collapse of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Iskenderum and how many houses of the Archdiocese have been declared uninhabitable. Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims came together to share what they have and to offer accommodation. She said, “It is incredible to see the thousands of young people who have crowded into the airport, ready to go to help with the rescue. There is an endless queue of people to donate blood and secondary school students are getting involved in many projects of assistance. We continue to trust in God and in his Providence and to remember our beloved Syria.”
Bassel, a young member of the Focolare in Syria sent us this account, “These are devastating days also in my city, Aleppo. On 6th February we woke up terrified and ran towards the stairs, we couldn’t see anything, due to the power failure. We stopped at the front door, where there is an image of the Guardian Angel and said a prayer. Then we found a mobile phone and switched on the light. I didn’t recognize the room: everything on the floor was broken, the walls and tiles were cracked, the neighbours coming down the stairs screaming. We took only what we could carry in our pyjama pockets, put on our coats and went out in the rain and freezing cold.”
Bassel spent that endless night on the street, watching churches and mosques collapse. The moonlight illuminated the destruction. As the aftershocks became lighter, there were reports of friends trapped under the rubble and whole buildings collapsing. “Our country is not equipped for this kind of disaster. The 7 floor building of the Archdiocese of the Greek-Catholic Melkite Church was one of those that collapsed. Mons. Jean-Clément Jeanbart, emeritus Archbishop of Aleppo, was saved while Father Imad, my personal friend and our teacher at school since I was a child, was trapped under the rubble”.
People talk about their homes using the past tense. The cold makes everything more difficult. The Red Crescent and the Red Cross tried to assess how many were saved. Bassel said, “I worked with the volunteers and young scouts to prepare and distribute food and blankets for children and youth, I couldn’t sleep because of the terrifying scenes I had witnessed”.
As the aftershocks continue to destroy buildings, Bassel reflected: “When we hear the news, we see the big countries sending experts, aid and relief teams to the affected countries. It is awful for us to see that they cannot send anything to Syria because of the embargo, as if we were not human beings. We have been able to go back home now, where the Internet is better but we are waiting for the next quake. Pray that we will survive, pray for those who have died, pray for those who are missing”.
Anna Lisa Innocenti and Maria Grazia Berretta