A pregnant Syrian mother has described the traumatic moment a catastrophic earthquake destroyed her building a month ago, forcing her to sleep on the streets with two young daughters who continue to ask her when they can go home.
A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck areas of Turkey and Syria on February 6, followed by a second earthquake 10 days later, killing over 50,000 people and displacing millions.
Aalaa, whose second name has not been shared, now lives in a Unicef-supported shelter for those displaced from their homes, with her two daughters, four-year-old Mona and three-year-old Ritaj, in Jableh, Lattakia Governorate, north-western Syria.
The mother expressed gratitude her husband and daughters are safe, but her children are still scared weeks on from the event, frequently crying at night, wetting the bed and telling their mother “they want to go home”.
On the day their home collapsed, Aalaa described trying to comfort her children and tell them the shaking was “a swing” as the earthquake began.
As men broke their door down to carry her children to safety, and amid fear for her unborn child Aalaa fainted.
“I was at home reading (the) Qur’an, I prayed and sat with my children,” Aalaa said.
“Suddenly my daughter woke up and said ‘Is this a swing? Now I have a swing.’
“So I told her ‘Yes, God (has) got us a swing – I said that so she doesn’t get scared.
“I got up to see what’s happening and I heard people screaming but I did not know what was happening because I have never witnessed an earthquake before.
“Then the guys in my building broke the door of my house and yelled, asking me to get out and they pulled out my children away from me.
“I yelled saying ‘You took my children away from me! I hope God takes your heart from you.’
“I started crying and couldn’t feel my hands anymore, my ears started whistling, and I fainted.”
Aalaa was soon taken to the hospital where she was assured her unborn baby, a boy, was safe.
Left without a home, Aalaa described being given food by passers-by while sleeping on the street in pouring rain and her daughters trying to piece together what had happened to their home.
“(My daughter) said, ‘They cut our building (with) scissors,’ because she didn’t understand what’s happening,” Aalaa said.
“I told her to not be scared but since the incident, they are both bedwetting.
“Some days ago I started telling her not to do (it) and promised to buy her stuff if she doesn’t.
“Even now she (has done) it, but I don’t have extra pants for her to wear.”
Aalaa said her daughters cry at night but she tries to hug them and sing to them.
The three of them have not showered since the incident, but have been provided with food, nappies and soap to clean themselves at the collective.
In areas of Turkey alone, Unicef has estimated that two-and-a-half million children have been affected by the earthquake and need urgent humanitarian assistance.
To find out more about Unicef’s work in Turkey and Syria, go to: www.unicef.uk/earthquakenews
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