Refugees hungry, thirsty, exhausted after mountain ordeal - South Texas, Corpus Christi, Coastal Bend

Refugees hungry, thirsty, exhausted after mountain ordeal

By Ralph Ellis and Ivan Watson

(CNN) -- In an exodus of almost biblical proportions, thousands trudge across a river to escape killers belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Entire families carry nothing but the clothes on their back. Some are barefoot. And not everyone who set out on the arduous journey survived.

Jamal Jamir, a 23-year-old university student from Sinjar, told CNN his family fled into the barren and windswept Sinjar Mountains more than a week ago after ISIS captured their town. They spent days on the mountain, desperately waiting for air drops of food and water.

The family then escaped the mountain on foot, and made a marathon 15-hour journey to Syria. We met them as they crossed a bridge back into Kurdish-controlled Iraq.

Jamal said two of his young brothers died on the way. "What we do?" Jamir said. "Not enough water and dusty. ... They died."

"We are poor people. We don't have any problem with anybody. We need someone help us."

Many of the refugees, including Jamir, are members of the Yazidi faith.

Descendants of Kurds and followers of an ancient pre-Islamic religion, Yazidis are one of Iraq's smallest minorities, and have been persecuted for centuries, but they have a strong sense of community.

When the refugees crossed a river and stepped into Syria, their suffering did not end.

Relief workers provided two plates of chicken to a family of 12. People slept in the open, perhaps using scraps of cardboard for a bed.

Many were too sick and exhausted to walk any further.

The militant group ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State, executes civilians who don't adhere to its version of Sunni Islam.

When ISIS approached their town, Jamir and his family fled to the Sinjar Mountain, where they spent days camping and desperately waiting for air drops of food and water. The family finally escaped on foot.

A senior Kurdish official estimated that as many as 70,000 people remain trapped on Mount Sinjar, and that at least 100 have died so far from dehydration and the heat. CNN could not independently confirm those estimates.

During one of the airdrops on Sinjar Mountain, a CNN crew observed as the crewmen tossed food and water to the ground. Then the helicopter landed and was rushed by Yazidis seeking to escape.

In a chaotic scene, some of the adults pushed their children on board and some climbed on themselves.

 When the helicopter finally took off, the refugees wept out of relief.

At the refugee camp near the Iraqi-Syrian border, some people are finding relatives they've not seen for years. Jamir, for instance, reunited with a missing cousin.

"We lost each other!" he said. "We lost each other! Thank god, we arrived!"
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