Schools reopen as Syrians deal with earthquake devastation

IDLIB, Syria — Schools resumed classes in rebel-held northwest Syria on Saturday after being closed for nearly three weeks following a devastating earthquake in the region, local officials said, even as many schoolchildren suffered from shock.

Many schools have been turned into temporary shelters following the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey and neighboring parts of Syria on February 6, killing tens of thousands of people.

As a result of the earthquake, hundreds of thousands of people became homeless in the region, many of whom had already been displaced by the 12-year-old war in Syria. Because of the conflict, the territory dominated by the rebels also had difficulty receiving urgent humanitarian aid.

Many students missed classes on Saturday as their homes were damaged by the earthquake and their families now live far from schools, said Abdulkafi Al-Hamdou, a journalist based in the rebel-held region.

“Some students were worried about staying inside the building and hearing all kinds of noises, like the desk being moved,” Al-Hamdou said by phone while visiting a school. “Many students suffer from severe fear and anxiety. They are still in shock.”

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In recent days, displaced people have been asked to leave schools and many have moved to shelters to live in tents. But prices for tents are rising amid the shortages, selling for about $200, four times the pre-earthquake price. A compact tent with a metal stand can cost up to $400 in a region where more than 90% of the population lives in poverty and needs food and medicine aid.

Education officials in rebel-held Idlib said the last two hours on Saturday and Sunday will be used to train students to evacuate buildings in case of earthquakes.

One of those who lost her home in the earthquake is Ayesha, a resident of the town of Atareb in Aleppo, who had to move out of her home to live in a tent. He told The Associated Press that the temporary shelter offered to his family of 13 had to be evacuated because organizers said schools would soon reopen and the yard where the tents were set up would have to be left.

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“They gave us a tent in a school. Then they said the students had to go back and they started evacuating us,” she said, giving only her first name like most women in the conservative area.

Ayesha, who has a large family, rented a small house on the outskirts of Atareb, but four days after they moved in, another 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck on Monday. “Luckily the house didn’t collapse, but there are cracks in the walls,” he said. “The ceiling stayed in place.”

Since then, the family has set up a tent in the street, fearing more aftershocks.

The opposition Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, said the quake killed 2,274 people and injured more than 12,400 in the rebel-held area. The quake also destroyed 550 buildings and severely damaged at least 1,570 others, according to the White Helmets.

The total death toll from the earthquake in Turkey and Syria is estimated at more than 47,000 – with the highest number of deaths in Turkey.

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____ Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Beirut.