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Rescue workers search for survivors among rubble of a destroyed building in Aleppo city, northern Syria, yesterday. Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Irish priest in quake-hit Syria describes region as 'the deepest level of hell'

‘If we were in hell before the earthquake, we’re now in the deepest levels of hell’, said Fr Tony O’Riordan.

AN IRISH PRIEST working in a disaster-hit area of Syria has described the scenes as “the deepest levels of hell”.

Father Tony O’Riordan is in Aleppo in Syria, which is one of the cities that bore the brunt of the country’s civil war.

However, Fr O’Riordan said not even this has prepared the city for the impact of this week’s earthquake which hit southern Turkey but has severely impacted northern Syria also.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World at One, Fr O’Riordan of the Jesuit Refugee Service recalled a conversation he had with a leader of the Service’s work in Aleppo.

“Just a week before the earthquake, I was talking to the leader of our work here. And he described the situation as hell, commenting on the deterioration that occurred over 2022 due to the ongoing impact of the war.

“That was before the earthquake hit. So if we were in hell before the earthquake, we’re now in the deepest levels of hell where parts of the city that were devastated by the war and where the infrastructure was degraded; new buildings have collapsed and new buildings have become unsafe, displacing thousands of people across the city.”

While Fr O’Riordan noted that there are “over 120 emergency shelters, schools and mosques and churches that people have taken refuge”, he warned that “many people are sleeping in cars and sleeping outdoors in sub-zero temperatures.”

Fr O’Riordan told BBC Radio 4 that the damage to homes in the city “ranges from minor to very serious ones where the houses have collapsed”.

“These are people who had no resources for food or medicine or for heating before the earthquake,” said Fr O’Riordan, “so the prospect of them on their own resources finding ways of repairing their houses is just impossible.”

While he commended the response of Syrian authorities, he urged western nations to act.

“People are receiving blankets, people are receiving some food in the shelters, but hygiene and access to showers and things like this are patchy, to say the least.”

Fr O’Riordan said Aleppo has “been the epicentre of a cholera outbreak since September” and cautioned that hygiene issues and the “degradation of the water system because of the earthquake” could result in another spike in cases.

Outlining the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service, he told the BBC: “Some people are getting access to medical care and this is one of the areas we’re trying to intervene and to make sure that any person in an emergency situation who needs access to a doctor or medication may be able to get it.”

He added that the level of response “needs to be ramped up, particularly in light of the fact that we’re in the coldest period of winter”.

Fr O’Riordan also noted that “most of the aid arriving to Aleppo is arriving from Syria” and added that a “huge response is needed from outside of Syria”.

“What we need is the support of civil organisations and governments of the West to pump aid in here very, very quickly,” said Fr O’Riordan.

He added that the earthquake has traumatised the people of the city.

“The terrifying impact of the first quake in the middle of the night in a city which has no electricity, the impact of those terrifying seconds traumatised people.

“This is one of the barriers for a significant number of the population that is preventing them from returning to their home.”

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