The rescue operation is co-ordinated in Rustaq, which I was surprised to find unaffected by the earthquake. All the devastation occurred in villages to the south. The basic needs are for plastic sheeting, tents, winter clothing, shoes and food. We drove to within a few hundred yards of one of the villages before getting bogged down in mud. But the exciting part was when we reached the epicentre of the quake and could see the huge cracks going up the hillside. We called the villagers down to collect blankets and sacks of wheat. We also have these high-protein biscuits, and they're so strong you have to make it clear to people not to eat more than one a day, or they'll give you diarrhoea. The local coping mechanism, to use aid jargon, is good. You'll find two or three families have moved in together, and people are getting on with life. They buried the dead quickly. There is a fear, though, of disease from the carcasses of all the animals that were killed in the earthquake.
TUESDAY: Each evening we have a meeting in a house we've taken over to plan the next day. Overseeing it all is the Afghanistani deputy foreign minister. We like to feel we are working alongside the authorities, and he's a very personable guy. Conditions are pretty basic. We've a wood- burning stove, but once the wood's used up, the heat goes quickly and at night the temperature's been down to minus 15. There are five of of us in a room in our sleeping bags, with no electricity or flushing loos. We've hired a cook who brews up rice and, occasionally, vegetables. Today I went to visit an IDP centre - internally displaced persons, ie homeless. We are gradually helped to make them more habitable by providing latrines and cooking equipment.
WEDNESDAY: Again we tried to get to one of the worst-affected villages, but it was snowing. At least when it was muddy you could see where previous vehicles had gone. This time we had to stop halfway and leave the supplies in a mosque, where we got some local mullahs to take charge of it. The people are always very curious to see us - to see a Western woman especially. Any sense of grief you don't really see on their faces because they tend just to stare. People touch their hearts when they see us, as a gesture of gratitude.
THURSDAY: A brilliant sunny day. You could see the mountains in the distance covered in snow. Conditions were perfect for flying, and we had chartered a C130 Hercules to drop in supplies. We found a site in Rustaq and I helped mark out a big red cross in the snow made out of cloth and powder. It was a bit hairy because curious locals kept coming over and we had to try to clear the space. It was market day. It wouldn't have looked too good if we'd killed someone with a falling bale of blankets.
We'd already used a helicopter to rescue three aid workers who had got stuck for 28 hours in their vehicle in a blizzard. They were on one of the rough tracks heading towards Rustaq, and landing the helicopter was difficult. The pilot kept the rotars going and the aid workers were nearly blown away in the flurry of snow. They scrambled on board with the snow glistening on their faces. They told us they'd seen wolves prowling round the vehicle at night.
FRIDAY: A bit of a dead day. The cloud has come down and the Hercules flights had to be called off. Two convoys have gone out, and we'll have to wait to see what the reports are.Reuse content