'The earthquake is over but the consequences live on': Syrian man speaks of devastating aftermath

'I don't know what was harder - being alive afterwards, or dying with family'

As Touma Bittar films the rubble strewn streets, Latakia, Northern Syria, it's clear the impact of last week's earthquake is still being felt deeply.

As he says, even though the tremors may have finished, "the consequences live on." 

Syria, a country devastated by a civil war for more than 12 years was, yet again, struck by another disaster, after an earthquake hit parts of the country – killing more than 5,800 people, according to the United Nations. 

The quake also struck parts of Turkey, where, according to Turkish authorities, at least 38,044 deaths have been recorded. It’s reported to be the biggest earthquake to strike the region in more than 200 years. 

For someone surrounded by such devastation in the city where he lives, there's a tragic irony that Touma is an architecture student.

After he posted videos in the aftermath of the quake, I managed to contact him and he spoke to me about the night he felt it all happen. 

"I was sleeping at my grandma's house. When I woke up to the whole bed shaking and I immediately knew that it's an earthquake. But the fact that I'm staying at my grandma means that we can't leave the house because she's pretty old," he said.

"Our main concern was to just let it pass through with minimum damage. But when I got the news that my friend's building had collapsed, that's when I knew that this was a major thing."

Rescuers and residents search through the rubble of collapsed buildings in the town of Harem in Syria's Idlib province. Credit: AP

Nearly 9 million people in Syria have been impacted by the earthquake. According to the UN, almost 5,000 buildings have been destroyed.

"So many buildings, especially in Aleppo and Idlib, were devastated by the war. They were already fragile then they got hit by this earthquake, which made them collapse," says Touma.

When I asked Touma about the little aid that they had received, he explained to me how local people have had to make do with what they have.

"The thing about Syria is that it was isolated for the past 12 years. That's one of the reasons international help took so long to reach here," he said.

Civil defence workers search through a collapsed building in the coastal city of Latakia, Syria. Credit: AP

"Most of the people that rushed to help were inexperienced people, either construction workers or anyone who can drive diggers. Keep in mind, we don't have new technologies or any thermostats that can detect when someone is alive under the debris.

"Many Syrians have taken it upon themselves to try to help as many people as possible, either by donating directly to them or giving them their basic needs food, shelter, blankets or whatever, just to keep them alive for the next days."

Many of those living in Idlib, Tartous, Hama, Latakia, Aleppo are now left without homes – having to find alternatives for shelter.

"Many families left their houses and can't return to them. They stayed either in cars or went straight to public parks to stay away from buildings," Touma said.

Due to the recent events and the long history of war in Syria, Touma told me that he, like many other Syrians, have "developed some sort of trauma."

Due to long history of war in Syria, Touma says many Syrians, have ‘developed some sort of trauma’. Credit: AP

"We're always scared that something major might happen because we've seen it before. We're still living it moment by moment," he said.

"There's one thing that really bothers me when it comes to international news. The fact that they see us Syrians as less human than the rest of the world.

"Like, ‘OK, these people have already had so many death that they've become somewhat resilient to it’ but the thing is, for you, it might be just numbers. For me, it's my friend. For my friends, it's their family. For us, we have names. We have faces behind these numbers. The earthquake might be over, but its consequences live on."

The United Nations has appealed for nearly £1 billion in funds for aid operations in Turkey to help those affected by the earthquake. It has also appealed for more than £3 million for Syrians. 

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