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A Syrian doctor on earthquake rescue efforts

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

By now, you've likely heard that that series of earthquakes last Monday has caused massive loss of life in Syria and in Turkey. The latest estimate is some 33,000 deaths in both countries, and that number doesn't include those with injuries, physical and emotional, who now have to recover in cities and towns that have been severely damaged or destroyed. In a few minutes, we're going to hear from someone who was rescued from an earthquake years ago. She's going to tell us what that was like.

But first, we're going to hear from someone who's trying to care for survivors right now in Syria, where a years-long civil war has made it even more difficult to get the kind of help and materials needed in a natural disaster of this kind. Dr. Mohamed Al-Abrash is a surgeon at Idlib Central Hospital, which is run by the Syrian American Medical Society. That's a relief organization that's been providing medical assistance in Syria over the course of the civil war there. He practices in Idlib and was on duty at the hospital when the earthquake struck.

MOHAMED AL-ABRASH: Immediately, the White Helmets start to bring the injured people to us and our resources in the hospital because of the war before - and we have since 10 years or more than - to the 12 years now in the war. And we used to deal with these injuries before. But actually, in this earthquake, the injury is different type because it is because of the rubble. They have different types of injury, which is not used to be seen like the injury of the war.

MARTIN: You've been taking care of people who've been in a conflict zone for some time. But then when these new injuries start to come in, what - is there something you can tell us about what you noticed that was different? Or what was that like?

AL-ALBRASH: Many patients had head fracture, bleeding in the brain and all they need immediate intervention. And really, it is too huge for us to deal with these patients.

MARTIN: Can I ask you, Dr. Al-Abrash, can you go home? You've been there for a week now.

AL-ALBRASH: My family is staying in Turkey, and I am working in Syria. I am crossing the border each week, one week, one day. But since the earthquake, I cannot go to Turkey because my home is crushed. Nobody can go to the home. My wife went to her sister in Mersin. One of my son went to Istanbul. I have three children, each one in one city. To Bursa - I have one in Bursa. So I cannot meet my family now. Even I will go to Turkey, I have no home to stay.

MARTIN: I'm very sorry to hear this. And what about the other people working at the hospital? Can they go home, or are they in the same situation that you're in?

AL-ALBRASH: Some they are in my - it's the same situation. And unfortunately, also, we lost one of our colleagues. He is a doctor, his wife and two children. Till now they are under the rubble. No - they cannot reach their building to take the rocks from their home.

MARTIN: I'm so sorry.

AL-ALBRASH: Yeah, really. We have many, many colleague, one of our technician. He lost his - when - he was on duty with me on that time. And he lost his wife and two children - or three children.

MARTIN: Oh, I'm so sorry. So, in addition to turn to care for people, you're dealing with your own grief.

AL-ALBRASH: Yes.

MARTIN: Is there something that you would most wish the people outside of your area to know about, not just what you're dealing with now and what you have been dealing with for years?

AL-ALBRASH: Yeah. Actually, now, after the earthquake, most of the people, they lost their houses, now became homeless. And many, they are staying on the street, under the tree. Those people, they need helps. They need shelter. They need to rebuild their houses. And really, it's a big issue. It will take time, long time to solve these problems, actually. And this one also need - and they will have now - they will have diseases, different diseases. And the weather here is bad now. It is cold already. And, really, it's something terrible. Yeah. And - we need the help from the United Nation to stabilize Syria, not only in our area. Also, we need to solve this civil war also. Civil war also make us on trouble. Really, we need to live in peace. But till now, nobody is - isn't try to interfere and solve this civil war in Syria.

MARTIN: That's Dr. Mohamed Al-Abrash. He is a surgeon at Idlib Central Hospital. It's run by the Syrian American Medical Society. He is in the Idlib area in Syria, and he's talking to us about the very difficult conditions there. Dr. Mohamed Al-Abrash, thank you so much for your work. Thank you for speaking with us today, and thank you for taking the time.

AL-ALBRASH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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