White Helmet female volunteer rescues quake survivors

STORY: This is the moment Salam Mahmoud helped rescue a young child from the rubble in Idlib province,

after deadly earthquakes devastated Syria and Turkey in February.

"I will never forget those days and moments. I never imagined that me, a woman, would work and dig with the men."

Mahmoud volunteers with the Syrian Civil Defense, otherwise known as the White Helmets.

She is one of around 300 women in the rescue service which operates in insurgent-held northwestern Syria.

On February 6th – the day the earthquake struck, 24-year-old Mahmoud was deployed to the village of Millis.

She recalls how one woman was successfully rescued after a three-hour long effort.

"At around 6:30 - 7:30 we were called in after the collapse of buildings and the destruction. So we headed to the closest location, which was Millis. When we got there, I saw the catastrophe and I wasn't expecting to see the amount of destruction that I did. When I saw the scenes - of the martyrs, the children, the women, all of them under the rubble - I forgot about my family at home, my sister, who I lost touch with and who was in Turkey. All I could think about was how can I get the children out? If there is someone alive, how can I reach them and get them to the nearest hospital."

Mahmoud has volunteered with the White Helmets for five years now.

The group first rose to prominence during Syria’s conflict that erupted in 2011,

with volunteers regularly pulling people from buildings destroyed by air strikes and bombardments.

Mahmoud’s usual role looks more like this:

providing primary health care for women in the western Idlib region.

But when the earthquake struck, she was ready to dig alongside her male counterparts, despite what some people thought about it.

’When we first got to the site of destruction, we were criticized a lot, and were told that we shouldn't have come down there, but all of that shortly switched from negative comments to positive. We were able to save people as much as we could, meet people's expectations and answer women and children, who were under the rubble, calling for the civil defence, they did not call for their mother, father or brother, but they all put their hope in the civil defence."

The earthquake has reportedly killed more than 4,500 people in northwest Syria.

That's according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance.

Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority says the death toll across both Turkey and Syria has now reached around 51,000.