Late on October 5, a devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 6.6 struck southeastern Kyrgyzstan.
While the government naturally looked to deal with damage in urban areas in the south -- big cities such as Osh and Jalal-Abad, which were relatively unscathed by the tremor -- news soon came in that a village called Nura, high up the mountains and 2 kilometers from the border with China, had suffered extensive damage. My task was to reach this village, which in the best of times and conditions is extremely difficult to reach.
We left Osh at about 11 a.m. on October 6. We drove a Niva jeep to get to Nura, a place so hard to reach that the rescue efforts already under way were being handled exclusively by helicopter.
The road to Nura, about 250 kilometers from Osh, was in terrible shape despite repair efforts still under way. All you see on the way to Nura is mountains, everywhere, all around us.
We finally arrived there about 8 p.m. and the first thing we saw was the disastrous situation in the village. Homes and buildings were absolutely destroyed, nothing was left standing. The residents were dazed, still in shock. Some helped try to dig people out of the rubble, others simply sat or stood staring at the ruins that 24 hours earlier had been their village.
We watched as they pulled the living and dead out from under the rubble. Villagers started milling around and finally found shelter for the night in a tent city that had sprung up just a few meters from the wreckage of Nura. The tents were needed, since the cold wind of the mountains blows constantly in the area.
Victims of the earthquake
The next day, people looked exhausted and were not really eager to talk to any of the outsiders who were arriving, either rescue and relief workers or reporters. We were fortunate that we knew people there already, so we were able to speak with residents and hear their tales of shock and grief.
The people of Nura were still afraid that aftershocks might hit the area. The parade of officials and teams of aid workers that descended on the village did little to calm the residents' fears. Some were comforted by the visit on October 7 of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who promised Nura's people financial compensation for their losses and that the government would rebuild.
But some people said they would leave Nura if they had a chance. They said Osh would be their choice of a new place to live, though most conceded that they had no idea how they would find work or where they would find a home.
The majority of the survivors were determined to stay, and that didn't surprise me. The people of Nura are herders and there is no other means of making a living there. They have horses, sheep, and donkeys and they realize that raising animals has been and will be the source of their livelihood.
But their immediate prospects are grim. Officials have promised aid but Nura's residents know winter will soon be upon them and limit the ability of aid to reach their village. For this winter, there will be no buildings to live in, only the tents brought by relief teams.
There was one sign of hope as we returned to Osh late on October 7. The connection with Nura had already been reestablished, and on the road that had been nearly deserted on our way up to the village there were now trucks and other vehicles loaded with aid making their way up the winding road, trying to provide as much aid as possible before the winter weather cuts off roads and grounds helicopters.