By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
Sbenaty tells personal story about plight of Syria
Rotary pic.jpg
Dr. Saleh Sbenaty addresses the Noon Rotary about the devastations of the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey in February. - photo by Dalton Perez

February left its mark in history this year as more than 50,000 lives were claimed between Syria and Turkey. Despite Syria’s corrupt government reign that keeps its people oppressed, the devastation of the two earthquakes that hit the neighboring countries was crippling to the societies as well. 

Dr. Saleh Sbenaty spoke to Noon Rotary on Thursday about the impacts of these two earthquakes, providing statistics and ways people can help. Sbenaty, a native of Damascus, Syria, was visiting his elderly mother just three weeks before the earthquakes struck the country. Through communications with his family members, whom are still residents of Syria, and research of his own, he informed the Noon Rotary of the tragic truth. 

“The situation there is very dire,” started Sbenaty. “As you know Syria has been going through 12 years of a war by the government against its own people.” Syria, according to Sbenaty, has been under control of the Assad regime for over 50 years. The impact of the regime has devastated the country. Along with these insights, the professor gave more information about the country. 

“Syria is about the size of South Dakota,” stated Sbenaty. The population of the country is about 24 million with the majority being of Arab descent. The major religion in Syria is Islam, with a smattering of Christianity. “We got our independence from France in 1946,” said Sbenaty. 

Turkey has a population of nearly 85 million and is similar in size to Texas. The leading ethnicity is Turks with Kurds being in the minority. 

“On Feb. 6, of this year, at 4:17 am, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 hit,” said Sbenaty. This was immediately followed by an earthquake that registered with a magnitude of 7.7. The first earthquake hit about 23 miles northwest of Gaziantep. “There was widespread destruction and fatalities,” Sbenaty noted. “About 55,700 people have been confirmed dead. There has been an estimated $100 billion worth of damage. The earthquake was felt in many places.” 

Sbenaty said that his family was sleeping in Damascus at the start of the quakes and the building that they reside in was shaking. “Some of the older buildings that weren’t built well collapsed,” he said. A friend of the professor that lives in Egypt said that he, too, felt the earthquake. 

Approximately 10,000 aftershocks occurred after the quakes that also caused a lot of damage. The earthquakes occurred about 30 miles from the Syrian border. The damage was spread out nearly 140,000 square miles, which is about the size of Germany’s footprint. “14 million people were affected. 16 percent of Turkey’s population was affected, and it was estimated that 1.5 million people are now homeless,” Sbenaty said. 

As of March 13, there were 55,700 recorded deaths. 48,400 of these fatalities were in Turkey and 7,300 in Syria.  “Those are confirmed fatalities,” mentioned Sbenaty. “There are many that are still in the rubble that may not ever be found.” This is the deadliest earthquake in Turkey since the 526 Antioch earthquake, and the fifth deadliest in the century. It has also become the deadliest earthquake since Haiti. 

Along with the $100 billion worth of damage in Turkey, Syria faced nearly $5.1 billion in damages. 

Sbenaty then shared some videos from the earthquakes in videos that captured truly devastating events. The videos displayed footage of buildings falling with people inside, children being saved from the rubble and roadways completely decimated by the impact of the earthquakes. 

Rescue squads were seen digging through the wreckage by hand as Syria suffers from a severe lack of resources. Along with all of these events, Sbenaty shared a video of a canyon that was formed in the rural parts of the neighboring region. The canyon measures 13 stories deep. 

“The problem in Syria is much bigger than what they face in Turkey. Turkey has their resources. Syria on the other hand … I lived in the heart of Damascus. We would have electricity for two hours on and four hours off if we were lucky. That’s the area where prominent people and businessmen live. On the outskirts of Damascus where my brother and sister live, they are lucky to get half an hour of electricity the whole day. There is no fuel due to corruption.” Resources are bought up and price gouged by the regime, according to Sbenaty. Without sufficient electricity, fuel and gas, the citizens of the country face very cold days and have little energy to cook with. 

“The government took the aid that the Syrian refugees received and sold it on the market. It’s insane how cruel and hateful these people are. They live on the despair of others. It was really heartbreaking. Aid wouldn’t make it to its desired destination if it was sent through the Syrian government,” said Sbenaty. 

The professor then talked about certain organizations that show their transparency and show that the funds and resources provided do go to the ones who are affected. 

“If you are inclined to help, that would be much appreciated. Just being aware of the situation and telling others about it would be enough to see what others are going through. If you pray for them, that would be very helpful. Even if you can do nothing else, just a prayer would help.”

Sbenaty will continue his discussion of the impacts of the earthquakes on 91.3-WCPI McMinnville Public Radio on Tuesday at 5 p.m. This radio broadcast will also be rerun on Wednesday at 5 a.m., Thursday at 1 p.m. and on Friday at 1 a.m.