A Cork priest in Syria who has been leading the Jesuits' response to the devastating earthquakes that hit the country on Monday has urged people to send donations to help those worst affected by the disaster.
Fr. Tony O'Riordan has been working in emergency shelters in Aleppo, Syria since the earthquakes of February 6, 2023. He described the "chilling" scenes that he has witnessed over the past week.
The Cork priest told the Irish Times that he witnessed "a large articulated truck" with body bags arriving in the city, adding that a "heartbroken family" approached the truck seeking to find a lost loved one.
He also recounted speaking to a man at an emergency center who had spent 12 hours talking to his brother and other family members who were trapped in the rubble.
"Unfortunately that family perished," Fr. O'Riordan told the Irish Times.
He added that it is "hard to take" the terror that survivors have lived through over the past week.
"They are in deep shock and their sense of safety and security has collapsed along with many of the buildings," the priest told the publication.
Fr. O'Riordan added the Jesuits have been providing psychological counseling to families of the dead and injured, adding that the work is helping to improve people's mental well-being.
"We have rolled this out to about 700 people already and they are reporting significant improvement in their sense of well-being as a result," he said.
The priest told the Irish Times that the counseling work is being funded by donations to the Jesuits' earthquake appeal fund and urged members of the public to send "cash".
Fr. O'Riordan said sub-zero temperatures and electricity blackouts have exacerbated the crisis over the past week.
"It’s sub-zero and I’m sleeping in a room that doesn’t have any heating but at least I have a bed and blankets. It was minus 4 degrees Celsius last night, maybe a hot water bottle would help, but there isn’t any electricity to heat the water."
Prior to Monday's devastating earthquakes, Fr. O'Riordan had been overseeing a 300-strong team responsible for providing health, education, and peace-building services to people caught up in the Syrian civil war.
The priest said he was 400km outside Aleppo when the first earthquake occurred on Monday morning and said he felt "lucky" to have been so far from the epicenter, although he still felt the tremors as though a "train" was slowly moving toward him.
The UN has announced that the death toll in Turkey and Syria has risen to 33,000 since last Monday's earthquakes and warned that the tally could double in the coming days.
Click here to donate to the Jesuits' campaign.
Listen to an interview with Fr O'Riordan from the BBC on Feb 11 here: