The white helmetswho are leading efforts to rescue people buried under rubble in rebel-held areas in Syria affected by the earthquake, asked for international help on Wednesday in their “race against time”.
The group, officially known as Syrian Civil Defense, it was formed a decade ago to save the lives of civilians during the Syrian civil war. It has deployed all its volunteers to the northwestern areas of Syria in response to Monday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which was epicentered across the border in southwestern Syria. Turkey.
Cut off from areas of Syria controlled by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and neglected by the Turkish first response teams, concerned about the catastrophe on their side of the border, the most affected rebel areas of Syria have relied almost entirely on the White Helmets for search and rescue operations.
The earthquake completely devastated more than 400 buildings in northwestern Syria and severely destroyed other 1,300.
Since Monday, volunteers have freed families trapped under rubble in scenes reminiscent of operations at the height of the Syrian war. They also carried out several of the rescues of children trapped under the rubble that shocked the world.
Using the same equipment and the same techniques honed over the course of the conflict, drilled and they dug your way through piles of concrete to reach the survivors covered in dust.
A video that went viral on social media showed a large crowd erupting in cheers as White Helmets rescuers, including women wearing face veils, rescued two young children from under a flattened apartment block. in the province of Idlib.
Hundreds of people have been rescued, according to the group’s Twitter account.
Fatima Obeida volunteer with the White Helmets, said the teams were busy working despite exhaustion.
“Being able to get the survivors out gives them indescribable joy and emotion,” he told the AFP from Sarmada, in Idlib.
race against time
The group asked for international help on Wednesday.
“International rescue teams must come to our region,” he declared. Mohammed Shiblispokesperson for the group.
“People die every second; we are in a race against time, ”she declared to the AFP from neighboring Turkey. “We ask the international community to assume its responsibilities towards the victims.”
Monday’s earthquake devastated entire sections of major cities in Turkey and Syria, killing more than 11,200 peopleinjuring thousands more and leaving many more without shelter in the cold winter.
Only in Syria have died at least 2,662 peopleaccording to the Assad regime and rescue teams.
Shibli said it was “impossible” for the group to respond to the large-scale calamity alone in the rebel-held northwest, where more than four million people live.
“Not even states can do it,” he said, adding that the group’s volunteers have not had time to reach all the places affected by the catastrophe. “After 56 hours of continuous work… hundreds of families are still missing or trapped under rubble,” Shibli said.
“People’s chances of survival are decreasing” in the biting cold, he added.
The group needs heavy machineryspare parts for the ones they already have, and equipment, “but when will we get it?” Shibli wondered.
Hospitals in the region were also at full capacity, he said.
“Hospitals are paralyzed, especially surgery departments,” Shibli said, adding that some had closed their morgues.
thousands of volunteers
The group arose in 2013two years after the Syrian war that began with a brutal repression of the peaceful protests against the regime of Assadand operates in the battered areas of the country controlled by rebels.
officially named Syrian Civil DefenseIt wasn’t until the following year that it took its current form and became known as the “White Helmets” for the distinctive helmets worn by its members.
It is made up entirely of volunteers who had different occupations before the brutal crackdown on anti-government protests in 2011 escalated into full-blown civil war. In their previous lives, they were bakers, decorators or even students.
The vast majority of 3,300 volunteers of the group are men, but there are also women. 1,600 of them are dedicated to search and rescue operations.
More of 300 members have died in the warfour of them in the last earthquake, according to Shibli.
save all humanity
Some members of the White Helmets have received training abroad and return to instruct their colleagues in search and rescue techniques.
The group has received funding from various governments, including Britain, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Netherlands and USA.
But it also requests individual donations to purchase equipmentincluding their characteristic helmets, which cost about 145 dollars (124 euros) each.
Since 2013, it has rescued thousands of civilians trapped under the rubble of airstrikes or caught up in fighting on different fronts of the war.
The group’s motto “To save a life is to save all humanity”– is taken from a verse in the Koran, although the White Helmets insist they help all victims, regardless of their religion.
nobel and oscar
The volunteers have been hailed as “real life heroes” focused solely on saving lives.
They were nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, but ultimately they did not win it.
A short documentary about them won an Oscar for Netflix in 2017, helping to make them more internationally renowned, while a second film focused on the group, “Last Men in Aleppo,” was nominated for the 2018 Oscars.
“Where is my mom?”: the drama of the children rescued from the rubble after the earthquake in Turkey and Syria
Moving rescue of a newborn after the earthquake in Syria: she still had the umbilical cord attached to her deceased mother