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The 'doomsday' aftermath of the earthquake in Syria

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A doomsday scenario is how some rescue workers are describing parts of Syria following a series of earthquakes that struck the region early today. An initial quake of 7.8 magnitude hit overnight in Turkey. Between both countries, the death toll is in the thousands, and it's expected to rise. Rescue workers have been on the ground tending to the injured and searching for survivors. Wafaa Sadek is one of those people. She's head of the Syria office for the International Medical Corps, and she joins us now from Syria. But we are not disclosing her exact location due to safety concerns that the ongoing civil war in the country could pose. I'm so glad to hear that you're safe, and thank you for being here.

WAFAA SADEK: Thank you very much for asking me to come.

SUMMERS: So I know that this happened in the very early morning hours, but I'm hoping that you can describe what these earthquakes felt like, what you saw.

SADEK: It's been disastrous. It happened in the very early hours around between 3:30 and quarter to 4. First earthquake was around 2 minutes. I mean, in Aleppo, obviously, you know, and the whole area of Turkey and in Syria was really very, very bad.

SUMMERS: I mean, that's just devastating.

SADEK: It is. It is very, very devastating. And I mean, even they've heard it around the area. It's actually even was heard in Egypt, in Alexandria and in Lebanon, of course, in Damascus, in the capital city and other places. So it was really extremely strong and very, very bad. I mean, people were asleep. Unfortunately, so many buildings have collapsed - in Turkey, over 1,000, in Aleppo, about 35, in Hama and - I mean, and everywhere. Because obviously, as you know, Syria has been in a war for the last 12 years. So things are even extremely bad. And the weather is extremely cold, so it's very, very bad.

SUMMERS: The bad weather that you're mentioning, the conditions there being cold and as snowy as they are, I have to imagine that makes the rescue efforts more complicated.

SADEK: Obviously, because - I mean, especially from Syria's side because there is no electricity. There is no fuel. There are a lot of people still, unfortunately, stuck under the rubble. And they've been trying to get as many people as they can. But the situation is extremely bad.

SUMMERS: There's been a civil war in Syria for more than a decade, and I can't help but think that these earthquakes have triggered a new humanitarian crisis in the region there.

SADEK: Absolutely. I mean, it's been 12 years, over a decade, as you mentioned. And it's been disastrous for the people. A lot of them are living in shelters, and now they don't even have shelter. It's really frustrating. It's a big disaster. But we will try our best to deliver what we can. And we are working round the clock from the very early morning. Our staff has been really trying to reach out to all beneficiaries trying to help and deliver all the services they can provide.

SUMMERS: For people who are watching this rescue and recovery effort unfold from a different part of the world, what would you want them to know or understand about what is happening there and what you all are dealing with?

SADEK: The message will be these people are really in a very difficult position, and they are - at the end of the day, we are human, and we really need to support all the humanitarian aid, whatever we can. This disaster has triggered, I think, everybody I found in this region to see the importance of being all together, support each other, and we try to help. Because as you mentioned, this war has really been extremely bad on the people. And we really need to focus on the humanitarian, not on anything else.

SUMMERS: We've been speaking with Wafaa Sadek. She's the head of the Syria office of International Medical Corps. Thank you so much for being here.

SADEK: Thank you. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Zamora
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.

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