Aid critical in Afghanistan after devastating earthquake

Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

In Azor Kalai village, Geyan district, partially destroyed mud-brick houses were strewn on the hill – their walls collapsed and their ceilings smashed to pieces. Among them were the white tarps of the makeshift tents most of the surviving residents had built as temporary shelters.

Even before the devastating earthquake, most families in the village survived hand to mouth, earning just enough to feed their families by picking and selling fruit – like apricots, apples and pine nuts – in the forests. neighbours, or by finding daily salaried work in a nearby village. bazaar, say the locals. Many earn no more than 5,000 Afghanis – or $55 – a month.

Early Thursday evening, sheep crowded around the tents as women sorted through the few items their families had managed to salvage from the rubble.

Padshah Gul, 30, a laborer, stood outside what was left of his house in the cool night air. Where two large rooms once stood was now a pile of rubble and a makeshift tent with blankets and cushions that other relatives had brought for her family after the earthquake.

The family’s few belongings – pots, kettles, utensils – were still buried under the rubble, he said. Mr. Gul buried his face in his hand thinking he had to find money to rebuild his house

“We have to stay here, winter or spring,” he said, pointing to the makeshift tent.

Still, he said he felt lucky to be alive.

When the earthquake hit, Mr. Gul and his brother were sleeping outside their joint family home in the cool night air. Suddenly he heard a loud, dull rumble coming from the nearby mountains as rocks started crashing into them, he said.

Within minutes, the ground beneath him began to shake and he could hear the walls of the house where his loved ones were sleeping crumble.

“It was like a bomb going off,” he said.

Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

For 15 terrifying minutes, the earthquake and aftershocks shook the village around it. When the ground finally stopped, he and his brother rushed to what was left of their shared home. Amidst the dust, he could make out the lifeless faces of his cousin and his sister-in-law, who had both been killed.

He also saw limbs sticking out of the rubble and heard the voices of loved ones crying out for help, he said. Among them was a high-pitched cry from his 12-year-old niece.

“We didn’t expect them to survive,” he said, but he and his brother started digging – for more than eight hours. In the end, they had saved at least a dozen other living family members, including his niece.

In the center of the village, aid organizations and workers from the Taliban government’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development have set up a makeshift aid distribution site. As night fell, crowds of men helped unload sacks of flour, rice and blankets from the back of dust-covered trucks into bright blue tents, preparing the items for distribution.

Many trucks had traveled more than 24 hours from Kabul, the Afghan capital, teetering slowly along the precarious roads in the remote district. Crowds of armed Taliban security forces flanked the site.

Ali Mohammad, 40, arrived at the site on a motorbike, hoping to register his name with aid groups and get help to rebuild his house, which had been destroyed.

Three of his cousins ​​were killed when the house collapsed, he said. The 16 surviving members of his family now lived in a makeshift tent.

“I am too sad for all of us. Either we have to wait for help to rebuild our house or we will be displaced and we will have to leave everything destroyed here,” he said.

“I think we are going to leave to continue our lives,” he added, looking at the tarpaulins and the bags of flour loaded at the distribution site. “But then we have to start from scratch.”

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