Gayan, Afghanistan, Jun 25 (EFE).- All the circumstances of the recent earthquake in eastern Afghanistan colluded to make it the country’s worst such calamity in decades, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and over 1,500 wounded.
The remoteness of the affected regions, widespread prevalence of poverty and a shallow epicenter of the quake all contributed towards increasing the severity of the impact of the natural disaster that has brought untold misery on the residents.
The severe tremors of the 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck the provinces of Khost and Paktika on Tuesday night while its inhabitants were fast asleep, leaving them with barely enough time to run to safety as the flimsy walls of their impoverished houses collapsed upon them.
“The earthquake happened at midnight while all the people were asleep, and they were suddenly trapped by the collapsing of their floor and houses,” Fazel Rahman, a community leader in Gayan district of Paktika – one of the most affected by the earthquake -, told EFE.
“In the initial stages most were looking to rescue their loved ones and relatives and then other people if they could,” he added.
It was not until the next day that international aid began to arrive through the main United Nation humanitarian agencies, the International Red Cross and the Taliban government trying to provide assistance to the thousands of people in hospitals and temporary shelters.
However, the people of Gayan remained neglected immediately after the earthquake.
The tremor with an epicenter 10 kilometers deep destroyed 1,500 houses in Gayan district and nearly 300 houses in Bermal district, both in Paktika province, and destroyed another 800 houses in Khost province, according to the UN World Food Program (WFP) estimates on Friday.
Aid was slow to reach this region, nestled between mountains and separated from the provincial capital by a three-hour drive through poor roads and land ravaged by recent floods and lacking in proper Internet coverage.
“Only the locals helped each other to rescue the trapped people, and we have not seen any rescue teams from the government or any other organization during the entire rescue process,” Rahman said.
The community leader recounted how many parents saw their children die before their eyes as they remained trapped, and stressed that the number of deaths would have been much lower if aid had come earlier.
Saber Jan had great difficulty describing what he experienced that night, when he lost all 12 members of his family, while he was rescued by his neighbors.
“When I realized that I was between the mud and wood, I could not move, (…) I heard the voices of my children and nephews but I could not do anything, the voices were slowly silenced and I think the dust got into their mouths and they died,” he tearfully recounted to EFE.
Gayan district has only a simple clinic providing the most basic health services to a small number of people on a daily basis.
The nearest hospital is two hours away, accessible after a winding drive through the mountain roads to the Urgun district, where the health center has just 30 beds.
“There was a lot of rush, and we don’t have enough capacity to handle such huge number of casualties. All the rooms, floors and hallways full of injured people,” Dr Faridullah told EFE, narrating the situation at the hospital after the earthquake.
The Taliban government’s Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, visited the Gayan district after the tragedy, called for support from the international community.
“I am calling on the international community and humanitarian organizations to provide their assistance to the victims’ families in this hard time,” he said, while underlining that the government was working to rebuild the destroyed and damaged houses.
Afghanistan was already an extremely fragile country, ravaged by decades of armed conflict, recurring periods of drought, and a significant number of internally displaced persons, apart from the economic meltdown due to international sanctions following the Taliban’s coming to power last year.