Turkish earthquake: Locals speak of their heartbreak

‘It is like death followed them’

Sabrina Dourmash, who lives at the refugee centre at the former Abbeyfield Hotel in Ballaghaderreen with her husband Jamil and daughter Natalie, lost three family members, including her mother in Aleppo, Syria, following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey on Monday morning. Photo credit: RTE

Syrian people with connections to County Roscommon have spoken of their heartbreak following the devastating earthquake in southern Turkey and Syria which has claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people in those  countries this week.

Syrian woman Sabrina Dourmash, who is living at the refugee centre at the former Abbeyfield Hotel in Ballaghaderreen, lost three family members including her mother following the 7.8 magnitude quake on Monday morning.

Speaking to RTÉ News, Sabrina said her family were trying to escape their apartment in Aleppo when the building collapsed around them.

She had been on a video call with her mother Mahdya just hours before she was killed. Her brother and two of his children survived, but his wife and two-year-old son sadly perished.

Sabrina, who lives in Co. Roscommon with her husband Jamil and their one-year-old daughter Natalie said: “They started to run down the stairs. Unfortunately, some of the family didn’t make it in time. Everything happened very quickly and the whole building collapsed on them.

“I feel lucky that some of my family survived but I wish I could be there for my brother’s children to feed them and keep them warm. It’s just heartbreaking”.

Former Ballaghaderreen EROC resident, Ghassan Shamet, received the devastating news this week that two of his friends had died following the earthquake in Turkey.

Meanwhile, Ghassan Shamet, who fled the war in Syria in 2017 and was among the first refugees to be accommodated at the Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre in Ballaghaderreen, travelled to Germany this week to comfort a friend who lost family members in the disaster.

“I flew to Germany on Wednesday morning to be with my friend. His mother and father and two brothers died in Northern Syria. They were in their house when the earthquake happened. There was not enough machinery to help them and they were trapped there for 17 hours,” he said.

“My friend is in shock, he cannot believe this happened. He travelled to Germany to work to help his family and they got the house after waiting a long time living in tents in a refugee camp close to (the Turkish) border”.

Ghassan said the family had fled the fighting in Syria and believed they had finally found sanctuary.

“They were just surviving before they got this house. After 13 years and suffering lots of bad things I can’t believe this happened. It is like death followed them,” he said.

Ghassan, who also received the dreadful news that two of his friends had been killed near the city of Urfa (Şanlıurfa) in Turkey, said Syrian and Turkish people in Ireland were awaiting news of loved ones still unaccounted for following the tragedy.

“Now there are people still missing and to be honest (with) every phone call from Turkey and Syria we put our hand to our heart thinking ‘please God, no more’”.

Local TD Claire Kerrane said the community of Ballaghaderreen has been left shocked by the events in Turkey and Syria.

“The scenes from Turkey and Syria are devastating. People of all ages are literally dying under the rubble. Others are being pulled from the wreckage, some alive, while for others rescue has come too late,” she said.

“We have a number of refugees from Syria at the EROC in Ballaghaderreen and we know that one resident, Sabrina Dourmash, has lost three family members, including her mother. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and heartbreak felt by Sabrina at hearing such news, especially being so far from home.

“I know that others in the EROC are waiting for news from loved ones. This is a really difficult time for them and my thoughts are with them”.