surviving the horror of the earthquake in Idlib

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<p><figcaption class=Photograph: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images

For the past two days, I have lived through what has felt like an impossible nightmare.

At 4am on Monday morning, at our home in Idlib, northwestern Syria, we were violently woken up by an extremely powerful earthquake.

It was a terror unlike any I can describe, our house was shaking, our belongings were being thrown to the ground, screens were falling and breaking, pieces of the walls and pieces of the building were collapsing.

At that time, I didn’t think we would survive. I live with my wife and parents, and we were all violently awakened by this nightmare.

Related: ‘People are terrified’: despair and fear among the ruins of Göksun

We moved without grabbing anything, without changing our clothes, without our belongings or food. We just ran desperately, clawing at the exits along with everyone in our building as it collapsed around us.

There was a moment when I thought the building would collapse on us, each step laced with terror, because the circumstances seemed impossible. The apartment block next door collapsed when we woke up, and I really thought we were next.

But we managed to escape, our desperation dragged us into the street. My family and I moved as fast as we could, only getting a glimpse of our surroundings.

And it wasn’t just me and my family, but everyone, everyone around us, everyone in our building, everyone on our street, and almost everyone had left everything behind. Many were barefoot or even without their hijabs as they spilled out onto the street.

No one spoke to each other, it was a shock, we had no idea what was going on or what to do. People just cried, prayed to God, screamed in fear, or just ran.

The first thing I felt after leaving my building was how cold it was. We jumped in our cars and went to any place we could find that didn’t have buildings, where we would be safe, until the shaking stopped.

About two hours after the first shocks were felt, news about the other areas affected by the quake began to leak out. We keep hearing that such a building in this city collapsed, and in that city, an endless list of tragedies.

Rescue workers and civilians search for survivors in Idlib

Rescue workers and civilians search for survivors in Idlib Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

We drove for almost 90 minutes, looking for a safe place to stay, and finally found a camp on a farm on the outskirts of the city, where people gathered because there were no big buildings around.

Then I went back to the city about four hours after the first tremor, to the areas hardest hit by earthquakes and to where the buildings had collapsed, because I knew I had to record what was happening and tell the world about it.

By the sixth or seventh hour, in the rain and freezing cold, rescue efforts had been launched, with many volunteers and emergency services working hard to pull people and bodies out from under the rubble.

I moved from building to building and recorded the fear and despair that people felt, I recorded their stories and their suffering. I also wanted to record the rescue efforts and the brave people who tried to sift through the rubble.

By Monday afternoon, we received news that there could be more tremors, that they weren’t just aftershocks, but that we could be in danger of facing another earthquake.

Fear gripped us as we scattered our efforts to safe areas, away from the large buildings. They all moved quickly to protect themselves and their families.

We waited until around 7:00 pm, by which time everyone was out of the large buildings and as safe as possible, and rescue efforts were delayed until morning for fear of aftershocks.

In that time, we tried to return home to collect our belongings, but on our first attempt, around 1:00 pm, the second major earthquake struck, and we escaped with our lives again, but with hardly anything else to prove.

We went back home a few times to grab what we could, but every time we came back, we felt an aftershock shake the building. It became a recurring theme, every time we tried to return home, the ground shook. Eventually, we felt there was little to save anyway.

As night approached, between trying to get my family to safety, trying to keep them safe throughout the day, and trying to record and report as much as I could, I felt utterly exhausted.

We visited a family friend to collect some supplies, including blankets and food, before settling in for the night in our car at the farm.

It was an extremely uncertain and difficult time. It’s hard to describe, we were exhausted, desperate and terrified. Power had been out all day, our internet had slowed down and it had been almost impossible to get anything out.

At 6 in the morning on Tuesday we returned home, this time to take stock of the destruction. Little is left of our belongings, but at least we have each other.

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