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Victoria woman relieved family members in Syria safe after earthquake

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Canada is ready to provide help in the aftermath of the earthquake, which has left thousands dead.
Safaa Naeman's younger sister, Hanan, right, with her five children in this undated family picture. The family, who live in Idlib, Syria, were caught in a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and northwestern Syria early Monday morning. The family home has been extensively damaged, but no family members were injured. COURTESY SAFAA NAEMAN

A Victoria woman says she spent a sleepless night worrying about family living in the region affected by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and northwestern Syria early Monday, causing extensive damage and thousands of deaths.

Safaa Naeman, who fled Syria to escape the civil war six years ago, left behind an older brother, Mustafa, and younger sister, Hanan, who lived in Idlib in northwestern Syria.

After hearing about the earthquake, she couldn’t reach either and spent the night awake, waiting for them to call her.

“I just shook. I couldn’t sleep all night,” said Naeman, who runs catering business. “I was so worried.”

She was relieved when her sister called Monday morning to tell her that both families were safe.

“She said that she was safe, but that her house in the city of Idlib was extensively damaged and she couldn’t return home,” said Naeman, who now lives in Victoria with husband Fadi Saidissa and their sons, age 17 and 15. “They said that the damage was worse than the war, worse than anything they had ever experienced.”

Her sister told her that the tremors lasted almost two minutes and that all the buildings in the city were destroyed.

The earthquake also knocked out power and internet service. Her sister had to walk to find an area where cell service was still available to call Naeman and let her know that her family of seven was safe, as was their brother, his wife and three boys.

Hanan said that after the original tremor, up to 40 aftershocks rocked the city and parts of the Aleppo countryside.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Canada is ready to provide help in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Reports and images from Turkey and Syria were “devastating,” he said.

“Canada stands ready to provide assistance,” he wrote in a statement. “Our thoughts are with everyone affected by these major earthquakes, and our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones.”

Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether any Canadians were affected in Turkey and Syria.

The federal Conservatives would support “any effort by Canadians and the Canadian government to provide assistance,” Conservative foreign affairs critic MP Michael Chong said on Twitter.

NDP foreign affairs critic MP Heather McPherson urged the federal government to send immediate humanitarian support.

Moutaz Adham, the Syria country director for Oxfam Canada, said the number of people killed and injured by the quake in Syria was shifting rapidly.

“We are seeing families are looking for their missing loved ones who [are] left under the debris of collapsed buildings. We know that people, even those that their buildings haven’t collapsed, don’t feel safe to go back,” he said in a phone interview from Damascus.

“The earthquake is coming on top of a very dire humanitarian situation in Syria.”

Adham said there was a need for financial aid to help respond to the situation, noting that the quake also came during a harsh winter that could complicate relief efforts.

Majd Khalaf, a Montreal-based co-ordinator with the White Helmets — a Syrian civil-defence organization — said many buildings that collapsed were already damaged during the ongoing war, making them more vulnerable to the quake.

“Our teams are now responding … They are digging in the rubble to save lives,” he said. “It’s really a huge disaster.”

Khaled Abdulwahed, a Toronto-based manager with Molham Volunteering Team — a non-profit organization that provides aid to displaced people in Syria — said his organization started an urgent fundraising campaign to support those who lost their homes due to the earthquake.

He said there is a high demand for essentials, including food, infant formula, heaters and blankets for people who are sheltering now in schools, sport centres and mosques.

“Our teams are also supporting hospitals and medical centres with medical supplies,” he said. “We are trying to help those who lost their homes and now are living in temporary shelters.”

— With files from Jordan Omstead and The Associated Press

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