Karim Nyazai has been travelling to and from his family’s remote village and the city of Sharan where he lives since the devastating earthquake that struck Afghanistan on Wednesday morning, burying dead family members in the village and taking injured ones to a hospital in the city.
The 28-year-old was scrolling through Facebook at about 1am on Wednesday in Sharan, the capital of Paktika province, when he felt the earthquake.
“It was like the entire world was falling down,” Nyazai said from outside a hospital in Sharan of the moment the quake struck. “We spent the night outside as we were scared of new shocks. I started calling my family in Gyan district right away but the communication services were not working.”
Nyazi spent the early hours of Wednesday trying to get through to his relations in his home village and going door to door looking for a taxi or any other vehicle to take him there. Eventually he found a friend who lent him a car and they travelled together.
“I saw the news on my Facebook feed that Gyan had been severely hit,” he said. “My legs were shaking on the way. I began to understand that my village could be destroyed when I saw other villages along the way completely or partially fallen down, with people trying to take family members out of the rubble with hands and shovels.”
By 7am he had made it out to his village of about 50 families. It too had been destroyed. Nyazai described an apocalyptic scene: women and children screaming, bodies wrapped up in blankets all around, and people frantically digging through the rubble with hands and shovels for any sign of life.
His family home had consisted of a central yard with four rooms made of mud in each corner. “When I reached my house, two rooms had completely fallen down and two more were damaged but still standing,” he said.
“My father was citing parts of the Qur’an, crying and digging into one of the rooms where my brothers and sisters were sleeping. There were bodies outside wrapped in blankets. I dared not look at the faces. I did not know where to start.”
Nyazai, the oldest of eight siblings, lost three of his brothers aged seven, 12 and 17, as well as his 22-year-old sister. In total, 22 members of his extended family died. “They died while sleeping,” he said. “The world fell in on them.”
Later on Wednesday morning, as his cousins started digging graves for the dead, Nyazai began transferring injured people to a hospital in Sharan.
“I left the wounded ones in the hospital and returned to bury the dead,” he said. “I have not had time to mourn yet. I feel like I’m sleeping and do not know for whom I should mourn. I do not know for which one of them I should cry.
“I have not eaten since Tuesday night. I cannot. I’m now just sitting outside the hospital and do not know what to do. My father is still sitting among the rubble crying for my sister, brothers and his own cousins. There are still people buried under rubble in other villages.”