'Hoping for a miracle': Turkish, Syrian expats in UAE worry about loved ones trapped, injured in earthquake rubble

For some, the worst thing is not being able to speak to their families as phone lines are jammed

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Nasreen Abdulla


Afkar Ali Ahmed

Published: Tue 7 Feb 2023, 5:58 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Feb 2023, 6:25 PM

UAE-based expats whose families live in earthquake-stricken areas within Turkey and Syria have spoken of their anguish and anxiety as tragedy hits their loved ones back home.

Dubai resident S.L. said her uncle’s family was stuck under the rubble and she had no update from them. “Right now, we are just hoping for a miracle,” she said.

A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked wide swathes of Turkey and neighbouring Syria on Monday, February 7, killing more than 5,000 people and flattening thousands of buildings. Multi-storey apartment buildings full of residents were among the 5,606 structures reduced to rubble in Turkey, while Syria announced dozens of collapses, as well as damage to archaeological sites in Aleppo.

S.L. said the worst thing was not being able to speak to her family. “The communication lines are jammed so I have no way to get in touch with anyone,” she said. “I have been glued to my phone and obsessively scouring the news looking for updates. I feel like I am living my worst nightmare.”

In light of the disaster, authorities in Turkey have asked residents to refrain from making phone calls. In a series of tweets, AFAD — Turkey's Ministry of Interior Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency — urged citizens to avoid making calls except in vital situations. Another tweet urged people to keep their phone calls as short as possible, while a third asked them to stick to SMS and internet-based messaging software.

Another Dubai resident who did not wish to be named said several of her friends had lost their families in their hometown of Hatay, one of the worst-hit regions. “It is also snowing and raining right now there,” he said. “I cannot even imagine the state of rescuers and families. It is really heartbreaking.”

Meanwhile for Syrian Raghad Ahmed’s family, a wedding turned out to be a saviour. “My husband’s aunt’s family was in Damascus to attend a wedding,” she said. “Only the aunt’s son was at her home in Latakia where the earthquake hit. The building collapsed around him and he sustained severe injuries.”


The doctor, who works at a private hospital in Sharjah, said that she was on shift when she heard the news and immediately called her husband. “I woke him up and asked him to check on our families,” she said. “My husband was so worried for his cousin, but we have been told that his condition is stable."

Syria's war-torn city of Aleppo is one of the worst-hit places in the country, having borne the brunt of the deadly earthquake with at least 1,600 people reported dead so far.

Syrian journalist in the UAE Safwan Ibrahim said that he was awakened by the disastrous news of the earthquake and immediately rushed to the TV to follow the news.

“I was shocked when I heard that Hama City was severely affected because my youngest sister lives there with her husband and family,” he said. “ I tried to call them, but I could not get through. My other sister who lives in Germany finally informed me that no one in my sister’s family had been affected. The walls of their whole house has been badly cracked but I am just thankful my sister and her family are safe.”

Yara Khalaf, a Dubai-based media and PR professional hailing from Damascus, said that she immediately got in touch with her extended family. “I have relatives who live in the affected areas and my in-laws are from there. Thankfully no one suffered loss of life, even though their houses were damaged.”


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