In the village of Azor Kalai in Geyan District, partially destroyed mud-brick homes were scattered across the hillside — their walls collapsed and ceilings broken into pieces. Among them were the white tarps of makeshift tents that most surviving residents had constructed as temporary shelter.
Even before the devastating earthquake, most families in the village survived day to day, making just enough to feed their families by gathering and selling fruit — like apricots, apples and pine nuts — from nearby forests, or by finding daily wage labor in a nearby bazaar, residents say. Many do not make more than 5,000 afghanis — or $55 — a month.
Early Thursday evening, sheep milled around the tents while women sorted through the few items their families managed to salvage from the rubble.
Padshah Gul, 30, a laborer, stood outside what remained of his home in the brisk 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 brought for his 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 about having to find the money to rebuild his home
“We have to stay here, winter or spring,” he said, gesturing to the makeshift tent.
Still, he said he felt lucky to be alive.
When the earthquake struck, Mr. Gul and his brother were sleeping outside their shared family home in the cool night air. Suddenly he heard a loud, low rumble from the mountains nearby as boulders began crashing down them, he said.
Within minutes, the ground beneath him began to shake and he could hear the walls of the house where his relatives were sleeping collapse.
“It was like a bomb exploding,” he said.
For a terrifying 15 minutes, the earthquake and aftershocks rocked the village around him. When the ground finally stood still, he and his brother rushed into what remained of their shared home. Amid 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 protruding from the rubble and heard the voices of his relatives shouting for help, he said. Among them was a high-pitched scream from his 12-year-old niece.
“We didn’t expect they would survive,” he said, but he and his brother started digging — for more than eight hours. By the end they had rescued at least a dozen other family members alive, including his niece.
In the center of the village, aid organizations and workers with the Taliban government’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development set up a makeshift aid distribution site. As dusk settled, crowds of men helped offload bags of flour, rice and blankets from the backs of dust-covered trucks into bright blue tents, readying the items for distribution.
Many trucks had traveled more than 24 hours from Kabul, the Afghan capital, teetering slowly along the precarious roads into the far-flung district. Throngs of armed Taliban security forces flanked the site.
Ali Mohammad, 40, arrived at the site on his motorcycle, hoping to register his name with the aid groups and get support to rebuild his home, which had been destroyed.
Three of his cousins were killed as the house came crashing down, he said. His surviving 16 family members were now living in a makeshift tent.
“I am too sad for us all. We either have to wait for aid to rebuild our house, or we’ll be displaced and have to leave everything that’s destroyed here,” he said.
“I think we’ll leave to continue our life,” he added, looking at the tarps and bags of flour being loaded into the distribution site. “But then we have to start again from zero.”