"The earthquake was very strongly felt and for a long time," explains Fr. Alejandro León, Superior of the Salesian Province of the Middle East (MOR), from Kafroun, near Homs and the Lebanese border. Initial information he received from Aleppo, one of the hardest hit areas, reports that: "our works suffered minor damage due to cracks and some broken glass, but both the Salesians and the people we assist nearby are fine despite the tremor."
When they felt the strong earthquake, "some families took refuge in our house in Aleppo," he continued. "They arrived with only the clothes they had on and we provided them with warm clothes and food. Their homes are not in good condition because of the war and with us, they feel safer," adds Fr. León.
Hundreds of buildings have collapsed, in many cases burying the people sleeping in them. Provisional figures, which continue to rise, speak of more than 1,500 dead in Syria alone, hundreds missing under the rubble, and thousands injured.
Salesian missionaries in Aleppo, who have been serving the population since the beginning of the war, have decided to assist and help the earthquake victims who are reaching out to them during these hours. "We don't know yet how we’re going to get organized, but between the cold, the snow, and the situation of many buildings after almost 12 years of war, the population needs urgent help," they say.
"We know that there are many dead and that many buildings have collapsed, so within the limits of our possibilities we will offer shelter, accompaniment, and emergency aid, with all the basic necessities we can offer in these first moments," says Fr. Alejandro León.
Pope Francis also entrusted a tweet with his message of condolence: "I am deeply saddened by the many lives lost due to the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Entrusting to the Lord's mercy those who died, I pray for those engaged in relief efforts."
Among the voices raised to express their sorrow was that of Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra, Archbishop of Madrid, who, upon learning the terrible news, assured that he will pray "for the eternal rest of the dead and the prompt healing of the wounded, trusting that international society will know how to be close to a people who have been so harshly punished."