UAE, Saudi expats tell of Turkey, Syria earthquake terror, scramble for loved ones

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A UAE resident described how she witnessed the deadly earthquake that killed thousands in Turkey and Syria, saying she felt the world was “coming to an end,” as expats across Saudi Arabia desperately scramble to locate their loved ones in the aftermath of the disaster.

The powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which rocked wide swaths of Turkey and neighboring Syria on Monday, has left more than 5,000 dead as rescue workers on Tuesday continued to pull more bodies from the rubble of collapsed buildings.

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Misha Ally, a UAE resident, was in in the Antalya region of Turkey when the earthquake struck.

“Thank god it passed by us,” she told Al Arabiya English. “We only felt the tremors and aftershocks. It happened at about 4:15 a.m. local time. And the while building shook violently for 40 seconds. I thought it was the end – literally. I woke up from sleep so shocked.”

“It was so strange, hours before the earthquake I could hear dogs barking all night; it is like they were warning us.”

Ally, a Pakistani national and real estate specialist who has spent the last 20 years being based in Dubai, is also a Turkish resident and regularly travels to the Middle Eastern country.

“We witnessed another tremor again this morning,” said Ally on Tuesday. “As of now, all of Turkey is busy with the rescue efforts. But on top of that the country is experiencing horrible weather; hail, extreme cold, and rainstorms.”

Also in Saudi Arabia, Syrian expatriate Adel, who did not provide his last name, said he panicked when he heard the devastation unfold. His family is based in Syria.

“Both my grandmas and my aunts are in the city of Aleppo,” he said. “After the devastation of the war, everyone [in] Syria [is] suffering from the after effects of this terrible earthquake.”

“It all started when we received several calls from my mom’s friend around 6 a.m. on Monday. [We] immediately knew something terrible has happened even though we hadn’t check the news yet,” he told Al Arabiya English.

“After an hour we were able to get through to my mother’s friend and we talked to them. For one whole hour we did not know...if they were dead or if they were stuck under the rubble.”

Adel finally managed to get in contact with his family.

“Once we were able to get through to them, we knew that once the earthquake started they immediately ran out to the streets and looked for safe open places.”

“It was a very cold morning and they eventually had to seek shelter in the cars to try and keep warm,” he continued.

“They all spent the day in the streets until late night awaiting the aftershocks to pass through. After 10 years of war where death used to rain on them from the sky, they now fear death from below as well.”

“On top of the harsh conditions everyone in Syria is going through where they do not have access to electricity, gas or a stable living environment they are now reeling from nature’s wrath.”

A woman reacts while embracing another person, near rubble following an earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, February 7, 2023. (Reuters)
A woman reacts while embracing another person, near rubble following an earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, February 7, 2023. (Reuters)

“One day later they are still not able to comprehend what has happened and their voices are still filled with fear and heartache. To be able to turn this chapter and for the sake of humanity, all sanctions need to be lifted and humanitarian efforts need to start immediately.”

Syrian expat Marwan, who lives in Riyadh, has family members in both Syria and Turkey.

Marwan told Al Arabiya English that he was told about the earthquake by his father who lives in Damascus at 6 a.m. on Monday. After the news came Marwan said he desperately tried to make sure that his 21-year-old son, who is studying in Istanbul, was safe and doing well.

“Of course, we were concerned about the wellbeing of both my father and my son,” he said, adding that he urged his son to take precautions and exercise caution and to seek shelter on lower floors rather than upper ones.

In the UAE, Dubai resident Jessy Chami said she was in Saudi Arabia for work when her family in Lebanon witnessed the aftershocks of the earthquake.

“My mom, dad and sister are based in Beirut,” she told Al Arabiya English. “They were all sleeping when the earthquake took place. It was a strong one, they had broken glasses all over the house and had no clue what was happening - especially after the Beirut explosion (in August 2020).”

Rescuers and members of the Syrian army search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in Aleppo, Syria February 6, 2023. (Reuters)
Rescuers and members of the Syrian army search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in Aleppo, Syria February 6, 2023. (Reuters)

“When they got to know, they packed some clothes and initial things they need and were about to evacuate with our dog and they had no electricity but then after five mins everything calmed down.”

“They stayed home in one room all together next day. Now they sleep with a ready bag to evacuate if anything happens again.”

Syria’s embassy in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday extended its thanks to the UAE for its support in the aftermath of the crisis. On Monday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai, ordered $13.6 million (Dh50 million) in humanitarian aid to Syrian people affected by the earthquake.

“The embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic thanks the state of the United Arab Emirates; its wise leadership and honorable people of the Emirati immediate humanitarian initiatives.”

On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and offered his condolences over the deadly earthquake, which is considered one of the strongest to hit the region.

Up to 23 million people could be affected by the massive earthquake that has killed thousands in Turkey and Syria, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday.

“Event overview maps show that potentially 23 million people are exposed, including around five million vulnerable populations,” WHO senior emergencies officer Adelheid Marschang told the UN health agency’s executive committee.

Countries around the world dispatched teams to assist in the rescue efforts, and Turkey's disaster management agency said more than 24,400 emergency personnel were on the ground on Tuesday.

But with such a wide swath of territory hit by Monday’s earthquake and nearly 6,000 buildings confirmed to have collapsed in Turkey alone, their efforts are spread thin.

Read more:

Saudi Crown Prince extends condolences to Turkey’s Erdogan over deadly earthquake

Turkey, Syria death toll surpasses 5,000 as rescue missions continue

Engineers, search dogs from around world sent to Turkey, Syria after deadly quake

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