Tajik Quake Survivors Short of Shelter, Food

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Earthquake survivors in eastern mountains struggling in freezing conditions without adequate shelter, clothing and food.

By Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in Dushanbe (RCA No. 600, 08-Jan-10)

Around 700 people have been left homeless after an earthquake struck on January 2 in the mountainous Badakhshan region of eastern Tajikistan.

In a January 5 update on the aftermath of the disaster published, Tajikistan's Rapid Emergency Assessment and Coordination Team, a coalition of local and international relief agencies, reported that another 921 houses - home to 6,215 people - had been partially damaged.

The government's emergency response committee in Badakhshan, a remote high-altitude region, said no one died in the quake, which measured 5.3 on the Richter scale and had its epicentre in the Vanj district.

At this point, officials believe 30 administrative buildings including schools and hospitals were damaged, more than three kilometres of road were swept away and power lines were cut.

The worst-affected areas were the town of Vanj itself and nearby villages including Uskrogh, Gishkhun, Dashtirogh, Rokharv, Panjshanbeobod. Vanj district is home to over 30,000 people.

Due to the remote location and winter weather, it took days for help to reach affected villages.

In an interview with the Asia-Plus news agency on January 6, a representative of the Badakhshan emergencies committee said, "The food aid sent by the government and the United Nations is now approaching Vanj district."

The Red Crescent said people had been moved to the homes of neighbours and relatives, as well as tents, schools and mosques.

Avazbek Atoev, an ambulance driver from Gishkhun, said his village was cut off until January 5 as the roads were blocked.

The area was still experiencing aftershocks, and in just one day he counted 12 tremors.

Recalling the horror of being close to the epicentre of the quake, Atoev said, "It was early morning. I got up and put the kettle on the stove and at that moment - it was 7.15 am - it shook violently. I was frightened and I ran outside. I was horrified. Naked children were running down the street followed by women and elderly people.... Everyone was screaming and crying.

"Everything was plunged into darkness from the dust that was thrown up. Rocks falling from the mountain slopes were landing on houses and in the streets. The ground has cracked open in many places."

Atoev said that members of the Red Crescent and the emergency committee had reached the village and residents had been placed in schools, tents and administrative buildings.

A disaster response coordinator with the Red Crescent Society in Badakhshan, Tochi Mahmadaminova, said her organisation was able to provide emergency assistance but in the absence of proper shelter, people needed more warm clothing.

Mahmadaminova said that 280 people had been housed in a temporary camp and aid workers were trying to help others who could not be accommodated there.

"We have provided them with tents and bedding, but some of them need warm clothes as most lost everything under the rubble," she said.

She said the village of Gishkhun was almost completely destroyed.

"Many houses have broken in two. Many roofs have fallen through and ceilings are hanging down," she added.

Davlat Kamarov, who works at a local power station, was at home when the disaster struck and is among those who has lost all his property.

"I got up and as soon as I lit the stove, everything began shaking violently," he said. "I grabbed my son, who was still asleep, and shouted out to my daughter."

Although the family managed to get outside, Kamarov said, "Our house has been totally destroyed. Now we have nowhere to live. All our belongings are buried. The children don't have warm clothes. Our neighbours and relatives have helped collect things. All our food is under the rubble, as well."

Kamarov's wife had spent the night at the bedside of her sick mother living nearby.

"My mother-in-law was already ill and after this fright she has lost the power of speech," he said. "But thank God, we are all alive."

Hochar Bulbulova was outside when she saw chunks of rock falling from the mountain.

"My husband, my son, my daughter-in-law and her six-month-old baby and another five of my children were inside the house," she recalled. "They managed to take the baby out of its cradle and run outside barefoot.

"I have a heart disease. The ground is still being shaken by the aftershocks. I fear my heart won't be able to take it and will give in."

A government delegation led by Tajik prime minister Akil Akilov arrived in Vanj district on January 5. At an emergency meeting, local authorities and government agencies were instructed to establish the extent of damage before organising help for the victims and starting to rebuild.

The poorest of the former Soviet states, Tajikistan is prone to natural disasters.

Vanj district lies in the Pamirs, a range of high mountains that are prone to seismic activity.

According to Anatoly Ishchuk of Tajikistan's Seismology Institute, 96 quakes have been recorded in the district since 2007.

Aslibegim Manzarshoeva is an IWPR-trained contributor in Tajikistan.