Syria quake survivors risk sheltering in crumbling Aleppo homes

Wednesday February 22 2023
A damaged building in Syria

Residents in a building damaged by the February 6 earthquake in Aleppo, Syria on February 21, 2023. PHOTO | LOUAI BESHARA | AFP


Sitting by a bed strewn with rubble in Syria's second biggest city, Umm Mounir refuses to leave her home even though the deadly earthquake has torn a gaping hole into the room.

Aleppo, once a major commercial hub in Syria and already battered by a decade of war, was struck by a 7.8-magnitude quake in early February, killing more than 45,000 people across Turkey and Syria as well as flattening neighbourhoods.

The building adjacent to Umm Mounir's collapsed, ripping the rear facade off her own home, but she told AFP that neither natural disasters nor conflict can make her leave.

"Nothing will make me move out of my house except death," said the 55-year-old, who lives by herself on the fourth floor of the heavily damaged seven-storey building.

Her city suffered great losses in the February 6 quake that flattened 54 of its buildings and damaged historic sites.

“With at least 432 fatalities, Aleppo accounts for nearly a third of all deaths in government-held parts of Syria.” according to Syrian state media.


Officials and medics across the war-ravaged country put the overall Syrian death toll at more than 3,600 people.

Used to danger

The city witnessed brutal battles between rebels based in Eastern Aleppo and Russian-backed regime forces from 2012 to 2016.

After a suffocating siege on rebel-held areas and a crushing offensive involving barrel bombs, rockets and shells, the army declared in December 2016 that it was in full control of the city.

"We are people of glory and wealth, but the war changed everything." said Umm Mounir, glancing at the wreckage of her wooden furniture.

"Even in the harshest years of the war we were not displaced. We will not be displaced now," added the woman.

More than 30 people died while sleeping in Masharika after the pre-dawn quake brought down two buildings.

Seemingly, incessant aftershocks spooked traumatised survivors and a 6.4-magnitude tremor on Monday rocked the same areas of Turkey and Syria.

When the new quake hit, Umm Mounir grabbed her 85-year-old neighbour Amina Raslan, who lives on the first floor, and rushed out of the building.

Raslan's son said they got used to the danger because their home used to be on the frontline where missiles had rained down on.

Puffing a cigarette, 55-year-old Ali Al Bash said he wished they could leave their damaged home, but that "they had nowhere else to go".

Everything collapsed

Raslan's eyes welled with tears as she recalled the destruction of the home, they had lived in for 50 years.

Raslan said her family like many others, did not want to move to a shelter or rent a new home since they could not afford it.

"I lost two of my children during the war. I don't want to leave my house... I don't want to lose anything else." Raslan said.

Some Aleppo residents, however, have left ravaged homes for tents.

Mohammed Jawish, 63, now lives in a makeshift camp with dozens of families after his building partially collapsed.

"If I still had a house I would not be here," he said, watching his grandchildren, some of them barefoot in the cold winter, play with a worn-out football.

Jawish told AFP the quake cost him his belongings and sent him "back to square one".

"My chest feels tight when I'm in this small tent. I feel I could die from sorrow." he said.