Opinion: A doctor and his family rush to safety in their pajamas through the snowy streets

Gaziantep, Turkey

Nearly eight hours after a powerful earthquake hit Turkey and Syria early on Monday, Dr Abdurrahman Alomar and his family were preparing for the next attack.

With few safe places to go, the Syrian doctor, accompanied by his wife and two children, took refuge in his car, parked in an open area away from buildings.

Yet the ground continued to shake.

“I’m sorry, as I speak to you another aftershock is happening,” Alomar told CNN Opinion by phone from his car in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the earthquake’s epicenter.

In the background, sirens wailed. And Alomar calmly described how hours earlier he had been awakened by one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the region in over a century.

Once the initial quake passed, the family fled their building for snowy streets, dressed in their pajamas and armed with little more than cellphones.

For Alomar, senior health adviser to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), the priority now is to provide medical assistance to northwest Syria.

A decade of civil war has decimated infrastructure and affected medical supplies in this region, Alomar told CNN. He said vulnerable facilities will be further tested by an earthquake that has already killed thousands – and is expected to do many more.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Alomar.

NC: Describe when the earthquake struck.

Dr Abdurrahman Alomar: It happened at 4:17 in the morning, I was here in Gaziantep, I was sleeping with my family. We live on the sixth floor of a seven-story building, and when the earthquake started, my wife, my family and I jumped out of our beds and looked for a safe place inside the house – but it there was nowhere.

It was a truly horrible and scary earthquake, measuring 7.8 and several minutes long.

We waited for the earthquake to end. Then we and other people in the building hurried off into the surrounding streets.

I didn’t have time to take anything, only my cell phone and my ID card. I didn’t even have time to change pajamas.

When I left the building, I saw that the entrance ceiling and walls were damaged, but I couldn’t concentrate on the details.

Outside there was a lot of snow — there has been a lot of snow for two days — and that is the main obstacle the rescue operation will face.

NC: And the replicas?

Alomar: The most troubling issue is the many aftershocks. About 45 minutes after the initial earthquake there was another major aftershock, then a second and a third. And it was really, really scary.

Now I am in my car, in an open area, away from buildings and with my family. We are in a safe place.

NC: What is your role in the relief effort?

Alomar: I work with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) as a senior health advisor (I have a pediatrician background). I work at the SAMS central office in Gaziantep (Turkey), providing medical assistance to northwestern Syria across the border.

I am monitoring medical operations and services in our health facilities and hospitals in northwestern Syria. I support our staff there – giving direction and delivering supplies and medicine as needed from inventory.

And I speak to stakeholders – the World Health Organization, donors, our partners – for their support.

A woman is rescued from the wreckage of a building during ongoing search and rescue efforts in Gaziantep, Turkey on Monday.

NC: What is the situation in Syrian hospitals?

Alomar: In SAMS-supported hospitals in northwestern Syria, we have received more than 800 injured people. And unfortunately, about 190 dead.

For the first few hours after the earthquake, hospitals were overwhelmed with the number of injured. But now the situation is stable. And we absorbed the first and most overwhelming wave of casualties.

But in northwest Syria, we are already suffering from a supply shortage and are now using regular stocks from our warehouses.

We therefore urgently need additional support to offset these supplies for regular operations – and also to be ready for aftershocks and other casualties that may come to our hospitals.

NC: What impact has a decade of civil war in Syria had on infrastructure?

Alomar: Eleven years of conflict have left these hospitals damaged by airstrikes and shelling by Russian and Syrian government armies.

And it’s the same situation for the houses there. So when the earthquake happened, it had an impact on hospitals and homes – already very weak.

I’m sorry, as I speak to you, a new aftershock is occurring…it’s ok, we’re safe.

NC: How are Syrian refugees particularly vulnerable to the earthquake?

Alomar: When we talk about refugees, these Syrian refugees in southern Turkey are in a better situation than Syrian internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northwestern Syria.

Around 2 million of these displaced people are in camps. And these people are already in dire need of all kinds of assistance – from health to livelihoods and food.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
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