We spent hours searching for survivors trapped under the remains of concrete buildings. I struggled to process the situation, feeling like it was all just a bad dream. Around us, ambulances rushed by as their sirens blended with the sounds of screaming victims.
HERAT, Afghanistan — On October 11, 2023, I woke up to my entire bedroom shaking. I looked around frantically, trying to make sense of what was happening. Everything around me fell to the floor, as screams began to echo outside my window. On the fourth floor of my building, I had no idea how to protect myself during an earthquake of this magnitude.
I quickly put on my shoes and ran down the stairs as fast as I could. At the bottom of the stairs, I spotted a group of women and children running away from the building. Suddenly, I heard a cracking sound coming from the concrete ceiling above me.
I ran outside before I could catch my breath. Following the crowd of people, I desperately looked around for cover. Children cried all around us, as their mothers lunged forward to protect them from falling rocks. Everyone looked distraught.
Once the ground stopped shaking, I ventured further out and saw what looked like a scene from a war movie. So many buildings had tumbled down, rubble covered the streets, and people yelled out for survivors. My heart broke. All these beautiful places I grew up with suddenly turned to dust.
At that moment, I felt grateful my friends and family lived far away. As horrifying as the situation was, I’d rather be the one facing it than them. I walked toward a group of men digging through the rubble and offered my help. We spent hours searching for survivors trapped under the remains of concrete buildings. I struggled to process the situation, feeling like it was all just a bad dream. Around us, ambulances rushed by as their sirens blended with the sounds of screaming victims.
I felt my heart beating out of my chest as I sat down to catch my breath. My thoughts then drifted towards the few people I knew in the city. “Are they alive,” I wondered. I grabbed my phone, hoping for service, and messaged them begging for news.
The silence dragged on, second by second, and the longer I waited for a response the more my body filled anxiety. Suddenly, we heard voices coming from a nearby house that was completely destroyed. With no tools at our disposal, then men and I used our hands to lift rocks and move dirt.
As we inhaled the dust surrounding us, we remained determined to free whoever was trapped. Suddenly, we saw legs and an arm. We picked up the pace, focusing exclusively on the survivors, but some of the rubble was too heavy to lift. By the time help arrived, the people buried underneath the structure died. I felt shattered and powerless – struggling to face the reality in plain view.
I began to trace my steps back to my apartment, scared of what awaited me there. As I turned down my usual street, I could no longer see the building standing out from the trees. The entire thing had fallen down to the ground. My eyes welled up with tears. I couldn’t believe it. Despite surviving one of the deadliest earthquakes to hit Afghanistan in years, I felt like I died a thousand times over as I gazed upon the lifeless bodies lying all around me.
I could not accept the magnitude of what occurred. The loss of life, the destruction of our beloved city and its historic buildings, and the fear and heartbreak will no doubt plague us for years to come. The next day, we campaigned on social media to help our local organizations reach larger audiences. We needed clothes, food, shelter, and medicine. Many of us were left without a roof over our heads; we lost all our belongings. Now, we sleep in tents every night, far from where we used to call home.
The one sliver of light that broke through during and after the horrible earthquakes in Afghanistan, came from the kindness of humanity. People worked together, tirelessly helping in any way they could. Many of us already faced extreme poverty. Now organizations like Mariam’s Charity Foundation are working to ensure those affected have a chance to rebuild their lives.
More than ever, we desperately need to world to come to our aid. The living situation remains dire and I fear for the future of our country. There is only so much we can rebuild before our hands blister and bleed.
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