Helpless in the Face of Tragedy: Doctors Respond to Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

A catastrophic chain of earthquakes has struck Turkey and Syria, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. Over the past 48 hours, five earthquakes with magnitudes ranging from 5.6 to 7.8 have wreaked havoc, claiming the lives of over 5,000 people and injuring tens of thousands more.

The energy released from Monday’s catastrophic 7.8-magnitude earthquake was comparable to the 1980 Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption, according to USGS geologist Alex Hatem. As aftershocks continued to rock the regions, health facilities were quickly overwhelmed, leaving medical personnel working tirelessly to respond to the overwhelming number of wounded patients.

Doctors paint a bleak picture of the dire circumstances, including medical facilities, where helpless people lay on the brink of death and the hospitals are plagued by unrelenting darkness due to a lack of electricity.

A doctor thought he was going to die as he describes the horror

Dr. Osama Sallom of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) described the hospital he was working at after an earthquake as “reminiscent of a warzone.” Thousands were killed, and the hospital received 400 casualties and reported many deaths. Most patients are children suffering from bleeding and dying due to the cold after being trapped under debris. The hospital is overwhelmed with patients filling the hallways and lacking staff and equipment. The hospital beds are full, with patients lying on the ground. The doctor described the situation as “catastrophic,” with continuous aftershocks and a lack of resources.

At first, Dr. Osama believed he would die as he heard noises last night and thought they were airplanes flying overhead. He searched the sky for the planes, thinking they were going to attack buildings like before. He expressed sadness and concern about running out of medication and the lack of hope for rescuing children.

A doctor and family taking shelter in a car

Amid the chaos and destruction of the devastating earthquake, Dr. Abdurrahman Alomar and his family found themselves seeking refuge in their car, parked in an open area far from any buildings. As the ground continued to shake and sirens wailed in the background, the Syrian doctor and senior health adviser for the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) calmly described the harrowing experience. Just hours earlier, he and his family were abruptly awoken from their slumber by the powerful quake and were forced to flee their apartment building in their pajamas with just their mobile phones in hand. Despite the obstacles of heavy snow and aftershocks, Alomar remains steadfast in his duty to provide medical assistance to those in need in northwest Syria. He is constantly communicating with the World Health Organization, donors, and partners, advocating for support in the dire shortage of supplies and medicine. Despite the overwhelming wave of casualties in the aftermath of the earthquake, Alomar and his team have managed to stabilize the situation and continue to tirelessly serve their community in need.

Turkish doctor recalls experience during 1999 earthquake

As Dr. Tuna Ozyurekoglu tended to his patients on a routine Monday afternoon, his thoughts were far from Chamberlain Lane. Instead, they were with his beloved hometown of Adana, Turkey, where the earthquake had struck and sent shockwaves throughout the region. With a heavy heart, Dr. Ozyurekoglu recounted bare the reality of the tragedy, describing how social media was his first source of information about the extent of the devastation, with thousands of lives lost and buildings reduced to rubble. The news of a former classmate being among the casualties only added to the sorrow. But Dr. Ozyurekoglu was no stranger to earthquakes, having felt the frightening power of a seismic event firsthand. He remembered the 7.6 magnitude quake that hit Istanbul in 1999, killing 18,000 people, including a personal experience of spending a restless night in his car. This time, the disaster struck in the middle of the night, leaving survivors with no shelter from the harsh winter conditions, with reports of tents being distributed for those forced to spend the night outdoors. It was a poignant reminder of the cruelty of nature and the need for resilience in the face of tragedy.

The first week is extremely important

As the rescue mission persists, the relentless winter weather poses a formidable challenge to the search for survivors. With temperatures plummeting close to freezing, the situation becomes increasingly dire for those trapped in the rubble or left without shelter. However, the World Health Organization has activated its network of emergency medical teams in Turkey and Syria to aid those affected by the devastating earthquake.

The initial week is crucial, as there is still a chance to save lives. But with buildings left in ruins and economic damage stretching far and wide, the road to recovery for these communities will be a long and difficult one.


  1. Turkey Syria earthquake: Doctor ‘thought he was going to die’ as he describes horror. [Cited: 7 February 2023]. Available at:
  2. Turkey-Syria earthquake: Doctor describes the conditions in Syrian hospital with ‘dying children’ and ‘no electricity’. [Cited: 7 February 2023]. Available at:
  3. ‘It’s very heartbreaking’: Turkish doctor recalls experience during 1999 earthquake. [Cited: 7 February 2023]. Available at:
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