The only warning sound is the roar of a plane flying overhead. Residents of Aleppo, Syria, keep constant watch on the sky, hoping to evade death from an airstrike. Bombs drop daily now, says photojournalist Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, who arrived in the city more than a month ago.
“People know with mortars and tanks you can survive if you have good luck,” he said. “With planes, luck ceases to exist.”
Reporting from western Syria, CNN's Ben Wedeman said Aleppo residents are left with no good options.
If they stay in their homes, "there’s a very good chance that they could be killed in an air raid, in this random shelling that goes on around the clock," he said. If they leave, they’re destitute and dependent on refugee agencies and relief groups. “So it's really a horrific situation, regardless of where you go."
Because there is no defined frontline in Syria, anywhere can become a line of danger, Vilanova said. He is on his sixth trip to the volatile country since 2011.
“Aleppo has changed since last month,” Vilanova said in a translated e-mail to CNN. “Before it was a lively city; now only a shadow of its former self.”
As the Arab Spring erupted last year, the Spanish photojournalist watched Libya and Syria, believing the two countries would not make peaceful transitions.
After months of battle in Libya, dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed. But violence in Syria continues more than a year later.
“There is no security of any kind,” Vilanova said. Safety is a matter of chance, and the odds become worse with time.
His focus has shifted from the fighting between rebel and government forces to repercussions on the civilian population.
Many of Vilanova’s photographs were made in the only hospital of its kind in the city. Ten days ago it was intact, he said. Now, the third and fourth floors drop off like a cliff to the streets below. Oxygen machines that were on the seventh floor are no longer there.
The hospital is low on medicine and equipment and staffed with only three doctors and one ambulance, Vilanova said. It has seen the deaths and injuries of civilians of all ages.
On August 16, at least eight people were killed and more than 50 wounded when shells struck near an Aleppo bakery where people had lined up to buy bread, said Ahmad al-Zaeem, a commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army.
“The scene in the hospital that day was daunting,” Vilanova said. “Children without legs, with pieces of shrapnel mixed with them” left the lobby floor drenched in red. Many wounded people, their skin yellow or covered in blood, had to find help in additional emergency centers in the city.
“The city is doomed,” for better or worse, he said.
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN