NOOR Shah Mohammad was serving as a Taliban soldier hundreds of miles from home when disaster struck early on Wednesday morning.
A powerful earthquake reduced much of his village to rubble, killing residents as they slept including his wife, father, two sisters and a brother.
When he heard the news, he said his heart raced and he panicked; he hitched the first ride he could find to take him to Asl Asha, close to the town of Gayan, where he found scenes of devastation.
“I wasn’t here, I was in Panjshir,” Mohammad told Reuters, referring to the valley north of Kabul where Taliban forces have been fighting former members of Afghanistan’s ousted, Western-backed army.
“This is my house. I have lost five members of my family,” said the heavily bearded 25-year-old, speaking amid the ruins of his home perched on a hill near the rugged mountains of Afghanistan’s eastern border.
“I lost my father, my wife, two sisters and a brother … I have to tolerate it. If I don’t … God will be upset; we don’t know more than God.”
‘NO PLACE TO LIVE IN’
Tragedies like Mohammad’s have been repeated across Paktika and Khost provinces bordering Pakistan.
More than 1,000 people were killed in the earthquake and thousands more were injured. Rescue efforts have been hampered by poor roads, patchy communications and the Taliban administration’s limited resources.
Local and international aid has been reaching the affected areas, some of it ferried in a small fleet of ageing helicopters, but a Taliban official said on Friday that more medicine and other medical aid were urgently needed.
People’s suffering did not end with the quake and its immediate aftermath.
An apparent aftershock hit the region on Friday, killing at least five, and people across impoverished, remote villages and hamlets have few means with which to rebuild their lives.
“We cannot afford to build another house to live in,” said Rahman Ullah, a 17-year-old student, sitting on a pile of bricks and stones that crashed to the ground, and surrounded by broken wooden beams.
“It was raining the whole night, children were crying. We spent the entire night in the rain. We had nothing, no place to live in.”
In Asl Asha, Mohammad began to sift through the debris in his courtyard as he assessed the extent of the damage to his mud-walled house.
He said his late wife had taught girls in a local madrasa or Islamic school. His mother, brother and son are the only relatives left alive.
“Only four remained from my whole family, including me.”