100 Seconds of Living on Shaky Ground

Testimonies from the field following the earthquake in Syria

February 23, 2023

I may not remember the date and time, but I remember everything else. This is how our colleague Judi – a UNDP staff member from Aleppo, reflects on her experience following the earthquake.  

We are a family that goes to bed early, and start our day when the sun first appears on the horizon in the morning. We live together in a small apartment: my mother, father, sister and I, and our loveable and calm dog - Daisy.

I share my room with my sister. A few years back, we converted our beds into bunk beds to make space in the room. I remember entering the room, putting our little dog to bed next to my sister, and climbing up to my bed. Everything seemed normal until I fell asleep...

I woke up terrified amidst panic, barking, and violent shaking. I hoped that it was just a passing tremor. We previously experienced it over the past months, but the sound of furniture crashing in the room seemed audible. The vibrations were rapidly increasing. I helped my sister out of bed and followed my parents’ voice calling our names.

Judi, her sister and mother stayed overnight in the car following the earthquake that hit Syria and Türkiye on 06 February 2023

We sat in the car watching the pale faces around us, silently following the neighbours coming towards us, carrying sheets and blankets; their bodies shaking because of cold and fear.

I live in Aleppo - a city classified in 2015 as one of the most dangerous worldwide throughout the Syrian crisis. I never left it and suffered, just like everyone else, from fear and bombardment. Our house was hit three times, and my bedroom was severely damaged. We faced death on many occasions, but what I experienced in those one hundred seconds was too great to describe. A feeling of helplessness, weakness and fear. Today, mother nature is angry at us, and there is no one we can negotiate with to stop the madness we live in here.

I have not known peace since that moment. I relived all the pain I had experienced as if the past ten years of war were not enough, as if displacement, hunger and cold were not enough.

I do not know how many nights we spent in the car or how long we were on the street, but I know perfectly well that the danger looming over us is much greater than we imagine. We are facing a force greater than us, and we cannot escape nor be able to confront it.

destroyed neighbourhoods in Aleppo following the earthquake that hit Syria and Türkiye on 06 February 2023.

©UNDP / Syria - Adeeb Alsayed

Losing my sense of time and place, tired of worrying, and bruised as a result of falling down the bed and sitting for days behind the wheel of my car with our neighbours. Like all the people of my afflicted city today, I can only pray that time will bring us back to the days when we could find shelter at a house or someone's basement during the war, hoping for an international intervention or maybe leave the governorate we are at to a safer place. Can you imagine; people in this tormented city are now negotiating with fate – war vs a natural disaster.

Yesterday, I went to the house to collect some clothing and necessary documents. I was numb when I rushed in. The cracks in the walls and ceiling gave me a feeling that cannot be described in words. I was overwhelmed and wanted to cry, but I was in a race against time, so I took what we needed quickly and headed outside the building.

I remember my mother dragging a suitcase under the street light. It reminded me of when we were first displaced and left our home forever. We went out that night hoping to return in a week or two. Leaving my home still breaks my heart to this day. I crossed the entrance of the building quickly as if my body was numb from fear. I went out again to the street, looking for my mother among the crowd. I held the key to our house in my hand as if it were my precious treasure.

The calls of my friends and loved ones terrify me. I fear the voice on the other end will carry sad news. Social media scares me and makes me feel helpless in front of everything happening. I am saddened by the faces of the elderly fleeing their homes, sleeping on the grass in front of my house, and the anxiety of mothers searching for infant formula and diapers for their babies. We all share the same sidewalk, fear, oppression, and helplessness.

Now I am consumed by anxiety and panic attacks. I hope my tears will wash away the cruelty that I lived through those one hundred seconds and the nights that followed. My mother keeps reminding me of the day and date. She tells me what time it is now and how much has passed since that night so that I may regain my sense of time and balance. The unknown future that awaits us all suffocates me and crying is a luxury I may not afford.

On the morning of 06 February 2023, multiple earthquakes - the strongest of 7.8 magnitude - hit southwestern Türkiye and Syria. Several governorates in the north, central, and western parts of Syria were heavily affected, namely Aleppo, Hama, Idleb, Lattakia, and Tartous. The affected areas had already been greatly impacted by the war and were hosting large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs). As of 20 February 2023, more than 1,414 were reported dead and 2,349 were injured, and over six million people impacted.