UAE: Syrian, Turkish expats reach out to families back home as earthquakes strike region

They made frantic calls to their loved ones to check on their whereabouts in the wee hours of Monday

By Nandini Sircar, SM Ayaz, Nasreen Abdulla, Lamya Tawfik

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Photo: Anadolu agency
Photo: Anadolu agency

Published: Mon 6 Feb 2023, 3:20 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Feb 2023, 10:45 PM

Many UAE residents woke up worried on Monday morning as news of the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake hitting southern Turkey and northern Syria in the early hours made them place frantic calls to their families and friends back home.

People in Turkey, Lebanon and Syria were jolted out of their sleep in the pre-dawn hours. UAE residents who spoke to extended families and friends said their kin narrated how buildings were flattened and strong aftershocks continued.


Osama Ojjeh, Dubai resident since 2013, whose wife lives in Syria, said he was extremely tense all morning.

“My wife and my grandmother are still in Damascus. As soon as I woke up, I heard the news, and called them both. They were sleeping at that time. They said the whole house shook when the quake struck. They woke up and couldn’t sleep until 6:30am after that as aftershocks continued.


“I was extremely worried that another quake or aftershock might hit. When I heard my wife’s voice, it was such a relief to know that she was holding up as well as she could in the given situation. It was the first time that she experienced an earthquake, and it was a very strong one at that and extremely scary for everyone. I really hope that all the injured are now rescued and taken care of.”

UAE expats said their families told them that rescue workers cut through tangles of metal and giant piles of concrete to search for survivors at many of these Middle Eastern cities.

R.S, a UAE resident originally from Lebanon, said: “It was very scary back home. It reached 4.7 on the Richter scale and the earthquake lasted for about 40 seconds, at around 3.17am. My family stayed in the bathroom for 10 minutes and we had some broken glass as well. I know that many people slept in their cars and those who went out had to deal with a very stormy and rainy night. It was more the scare than actual damage.

“In Tripoli, people started firing gunshots to wake up those who were sleeping to get them to leave their apartments, because the buildings are very old there.”

Dubai resident Faten spoke of her relief at having been able to contact her family in Syria.

“As soon as I heard about the quake I called my family,” she said. “They live near Lattakia.”

According to the Syrian expat, her family spent the wee hours of the morning on the streets. “When they felt the quake, they went down to the street. It was very cold and raining a lot in my city. But thankfully, they didn’t face any major difficulties. Only a few balconies in their house were slightly damaged. I am thankful that they are safe.”

Faten also managed to speak to her friends in Turkey. “My friends live in Istanbul,” she said. “I have been able to speak to them and luckily they are all safe.”

Turkish national Erdal Acar, who has been living in Dubai since 2005, said: “I have my parents and friends back home. I spoke to them. I am glad they are all doing fine. My parents live in a place called Batman. There they felt the tremors from the quake, but it wasn’t as bad. In cities like Diyarbakir, though, which is only 45 minutes away from where my family lives, it was really bad and rescue teams were scurrying about with the wounded on stretchers.”

Erdal Acar
Erdal Acar

Other affected areas in Turkey include Hatay, Gaziantep, Kilis, Malatya, Maras, Adana, Adiyaman, Osmaniye, Mardin and Urfa, all of which witnessed severe tremors, with buildings tumbling down like packs of cards.

Syrian expat Mohammed Yaseen said he spoke to his parents and siblings in his hometown of Tartus. “Everyone rushed outside,” he said. “They spent the whole night outdoors fearing for aftershocks. I spoke to them in the morning and they were about to go to sleep because they were not able to sleep all night.”

Yaseen said he was concerned for those who were closer to the epicentre of the quake. “Our area did not suffer a lot of damages. Just a few old buildings had some cracks. But I’m praying for those whose entire houses and livelihoods have been destroyed.”

Faris Ahmed, a Syrian expat residing in Dubai, said it was unfortunate and prayed for the well-being of the affected families. He, along with his friends, has taken up the initiative to help those who have been impacted.

“I am from the central part of the country and thank the Almighty that it is safe there. However, we are coming together to help the affected persons with medical and food supplies. My friends are in touch with people back home who can help us reach those in need,” said Ahmed.

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