BEIRUT: Syrian refugees in the Lebanese town of Arsal have set up a special meeting point to accept condolences for the loss of relatives who died in the earthquake that struck Syria and neighboring Turkiye.
The town’s refugee community lost at least 72 relatives in the quake, according to the latest count they received on Friday,
Among the victims were some who had sought refuge in Arsal and spent years in its camps before recently returning and settling in the town of Jenderes, near Aleppo.
“The disaster is overwhelming; every day we learn of new deaths,” said Abu Fayrouz, a Syrian refugee in Arsal.
Fayrouz told Arab News: “I lost my daughter and her two sons. Half of our families were displaced from the countryside of Homs and the countryside of Qusayr. Some fled to Lebanon 11 years ago and some moved north to the countryside of Aleppo.”
Most of the victims were from the Bakkar, Sattouf, Radwan, Al-Abed and Yassin families, he said.
“We keep receiving pictures so we can identify the bodies. Our phone galleries are filled with photos of corpses.
“Those who survived were transferred to different hospitals and we are doing our best to reunite families,” said the refugee.
Abu Fayrouz said that his aunt was buried alive under the rubble. Rescuers could hear her voice, but by the time they reached her, it was too late.
Her daughter, son-in-law, and their children were found dead next to her.
Abu Mohammed, an official in one of the refugee camps in Arsal, said: “Among the dead are young men from the Sattouf family who had sought refuge in Arsal and left after the battle in the outskirts of Arsal between the army and the terrorists.”
The family died under the rubble of buildings that collapsed in Jenderes, he said.
A young couple from the Karzoun family who recently returned to Syria from Arsal were also killed in the quake, said the official.
Refugees in Lebanon feel fortunate to be sheltering in tents, even in the freezing conditions.
One refugee said: “I feel like we are being pampered here, and I have no right to complain when I see the buildings that have collapsed over my people in my country.”
Mohammed added: “We asked everyone in the camp if they could donate items of clothes, foodstuffs, and money. We are trying to find a mechanism to get aid to our families in Syria.”
Abu Ahmed Saiba, an activist speaking on behalf of the refugees, said there were 50 victims from the eastern town of Al-Buwaydah alone.
They sought refuge in the countryside of Aleppo during the war, and died in the earthquake, he said.
Saiba added: “It is a great tragedy and our heart is with every Syrian, whether from the regime’s supporters or the opposition.”
He said the earthquake was a disaster that affected everyone alike, adding that there is “no time for political loyalties now.”
“It is shameful that our political leadership considers us terrorists, and aid is allocated based on that, according to the news we are receiving,” said Saiba.
Lebanon mobilized all its relief and humanitarian agencies to provide assistance to the Syrian people.
Appeals are on social media are urging people to donate clothes, baby formula and blankets.
Pro-Syrian Lebanese parties directed relief convoys to Tartous.
On Friday, a Lebanese relief team returned after joining search-and-rescue operations in the Turkish region of Kahramanmaras for three days.
The team included members of the engineering regiment in the Lebanese army, the Red Cross, the Civil Defense, and the Beirut Fire Brigade.
Youssef Mallah, a member of the Civil Defense, told Arab News: “One cannot find the words to describe what we saw. Only tears can express the magnitude of this tragedy. Entire cities were destroyed. We were working in temperatures of minus 20 C at night and 5 degrees in the morning.”
He added: “Our relief mission in the first 72 hours was help search for survivors. Foreign teams were passing in front of the destroyed buildings, putting Xs on the building, and leaving.
“Based on our experience in Lebanon, we knew to support the building with wooden poles and search inside for survivors.
“People started running toward us, asking us to help pull their families from under the rubble. They trusted us and we were able to help save survivors.”
Speaking about the reason for the team’s return to Lebanon, Mallah said: “The rules dictate that the percentage of survivors declines after 72 hours, but only God knows.”
He added: “We will rest for a while and we will join the mission in Syria. If they need us back in Turkiye, we will return.”
A similar Lebanese search-and-rescue mission in the Syrian city of Jableh continued its work for the fourth consecutive day, the Lebanese Army Command said.
A ministerial delegation from Hezbollah and its allies was fiercely criticized for visiting Damascus on Wednesday and meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Many Lebanese said this visit was not approved by the Cabinet, accusing the delegation of exploiting humanitarian circumstances to bridge the political divide between Lebanon and the Syrian regime.