SHARANA, Afghanistan — As the earth shook, she said, speaking through her tears, she felt the walls of the room collapsing on her. Then everything went dark. When Hawa, a 30-year-old mother of six, regained consciousness, she was choking on dust, and struggled to make sense of the scene around her.
“I did not expect to survive,” she said on Thursday from her hospital bed in Sharana, the provincial capital of Paktika Province in Afghanistan’s southeast.
Her village, Dangal Regab, like many others in Paktika’s Geyan district, was a tableau of death and destruction in the wake of the 5.9-magnitude earthquake that struck in the early hours of Wednesday — the deadliest in Afghanistan in two decades.
A reporting team for The New York Times witnessed the scale of the devastation in Geyan on Thursday — and the magnitude of the response. On rugged unpaved roads over mountainous terrain, cars and trucks laden with supplies made their way to hillside villages that were strewn with wrecked houses. Dazed residents shuffled through the debris, using tarps to build makeshift tents and burying the dead.
Afghan officials in the hard-hit areas estimated Wednesday that at least 1,000 people had been killed and at least 1,600 injured. The United Nations’ humanitarian office on Thursday offered a slightly lower estimate — 770 people killed and 1,440 people injured — but cautioned that its figures were likely to rise.
Relief officials said the rescue effort was winding down and that they were focusing on the survivors, who had endured not only a heavy rain Wednesday but also unseasonably frigid temperatures that threatened to bring snow to some areas.
As the scale of the disaster came into focus Thursday, the supreme leader of the insular Taliban government, Haibatullah…