A Wayne doctor who traveled to Syria a week ago to help earthquake victims said the situation reminded him of a disaster movie.
He had a particular American film in mind, but he could not recall its name. In it, there was a great tragedy and then survivors struggling to recover.
“In the movie, you can see chaos at the beginning, something like this,” said Dr. Souheil Saba, a retired OBGYN and surgeon. “Now, everything has calmed down.”
Saba, who serves on a committee organizing relief, is CEO of a Syrian hospital that has sent dozens of volunteers to earthquake-affected areas of Aleppo and Jableh with food, water and medical supplies. They found that there were not many injuries to treat.
“Because buildings fell down on the people, most of those people died,” Saba said in a phone interview from Damascus.
The U.N. has reported a death toll of about 6,000 for all of Syria, including 4,400 in the rebel-held northwest, according to the Associated Press. Officials expect the death toll to rise as teams remove rubble from hard-hit areas.
“It is very sad,” said Saba, who was born in Syria and moved to the United States in 1984. “I cannot tell you how devastating the situation is.”
As recovery efforts continue, Syrians are still in need of machinery to move clear rubble, Saba said. People also need diapers, baby formula, sanitary pads, medical supplies like surgical implements and medication for anesthesia. Money is also needed to purchase food and get people to shelters.
Saba is getting support from the St. John of Damascus Fellowship, a Christian Syrian organization in New Jersey that planned to hold a prayer service and fundraiser at St. Mark’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Paramus. Saba said his group was a small part of a much bigger effort involving organizations and churches trying to help victims in government-controlled areas of Syria.
Syria has been a target of US sanctions since 1979, but they became more restrictive in 2011 after President Bashar Assad’s government used violence against pro-democracy protesters demanding changes. The sanctions prohibit almost all trade and financial ties between the U.S. and Syria.
But last week, the U.S. Treasury Department eased sanctions to allow transactions related to earthquake relief. That has made it easier to receive donations, Saba said. “People are helping in any way they can,” he said.