'There's no one to help us': Syria's rebel-controlled zones in ruins after devastating earthquake

A photo showing the destruction in Idlib, in northwestern Syria, caused by the earthquake.
A photo showing the destruction in Idlib, in northwestern Syria, caused by the earthquake. © Twitter / @mahmod1989512

Entire neighbourhoods and villages in northwestern Syria were destroyed after a violent earthquake the morning of February 6 hit Turkey near the border.  In between internet outages, several of our Observers in opposition-controlled areas of Syria told us of the heartbreaking scenes as rescue workers struggle to keep up.


The 7.8 magnitude earthquake's epicentre was located about 33 kilometres from Gaziantep, in western Turkey, according to the US Geological Survey. The shake was felt throughout central Turkey and northern Syria, as well as in Cyprus, Lebanon, Greece and Israel.  At least 2,300 people were killed in what officials say is one of the region’s most powerful earthquakes since 1999.

Another 7.7 magnitude aftershock hit nearby several hours later, after rescue efforts had begun in both countries.

Syria, already seized by more than 11 years of civil war, has begun grappling with the wreckage. The White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defence, a volunteer rescue organisation that operates in opposition-held parts of the country, has deployed teams to find survivors among the ruins. 

The cities of Idlib and Aleppo were severely impacted, as well as surrounding villages including Salqin, Jindires, Termanin, Sarmada, Jisr al-Shughur and Darkush.

Jindires is a village in northern Syria, in the Aleppo governorate. This resident begs rescue teams to come to his town to help them: “People, Jindires is under the rubble. There is no one here to help us. There is no equipment. I’m speaking out to the Syrian Civil Defence, the ones who are in Aqrabat. Come here! There is no one! The children are under the rubble! Come!”

‘People are under the rubble, entire houses have fallen on people’s heads’

Qusai al Shabeeb is a journalist and activist who shares life in the refugee camps in Idlib. He spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team from his car as he was touring damaged areas in the region.

The situation is extremely difficult. People are under the rubble, entire houses have fallen on people’s heads. My friend is in Sarmada. The entire neighbourhood where he lives has crumbled, around 10 apartment buildings. His wife and his two children have been killed. 

Another friend is in the Afrin region, in Jindires. More than 60 homes were destroyed. His wife, children and brothers are all under the rubble. He is the only one who got out unscathed. He wasn’t at home when the earthquake happened. We will need days to get everyone out from under the debris. 

A member of the White Helmets films himself after the earthquake in a village near Jisr al-Shughur, in the Idlib governorate: "A huge catastrophe has hit civilians in northwestern Syria. These buildings were already weakened by the strikes [Editor's note: carried out by the Syrian regime]. The earthquake destroyed what was left of these houses. There were six-storey buildings here. there are still civilians under the rubble," he said.

'Around noon, 400 injured people were admitted to the hospital'

The FRANCE 24 Observers team also spoke to doctors and nurses in and around the city of Salqin. They report being completely overwhelmed, as the dead and wounded continue pouring into hospitals. 

Journalist and activist Mousab Yassine visited a hospital in Salqin:

I was in a small hospital in the village of Salqin. Around noon, 400 injured people were admitted, and 30 people were declared dead. Entire neighbourhoods had crumbled and rescue operations are still going on in the buildings. We don’t yet know the fate of many people – we don’t know if they are alive or dead. Search and rescue teams are at maximum capacity, they cannot cover all the impacted areas. 

A video showing damage in Salqin, Syria.

A village of refugees completely levelled

The Idlib region is home to dozens of camps for those who have been displaced by the civil war in Syria. They were relatively unaffected by the earthquake, according to Said al-Said, a journalist and activist in Atme, north of Idlib. He sent us voice messages on WhatsApp as an aftershock occurred.

There was not much damage in the camps, since they are mostly tents or small buildings with tin roofs and not cement, except for a small village nearby called Bsenya, where buildings have been constructed in recent months to accommodate displaced people. This small village has unfortunately been completely razed. For the moment there is no estimate of those injured or killed.

A video showing the village of Bsenya, built for refugees in the Harem district of Idlib, devastated by the earthquake.
A video showing Civil Defense rescue workers clearing the rubble in Maland Village, in Jisr Al-Shughur District, in Idlib Governorate.

Hundreds of people, including children, are still trapped under the rubble. Freeing survivors will require heavy equipment, according to the White Helmets, who are asking for international aid to support the rescue efforts.

At least 1,498 people have died in Turkey, according to the country's national disaster and emergencies management agency. In Syria, 810 people were killed, according to Syrian rescue officials.

The death toll is expected to rise as rescue workers, volunteers and residents continue the search for survivors under the rubble of collapsed buildings.