From a vantage point upon a hill, the recovery workers in the southern Kyrgyzstan settlement of Ayuu looked like burrowing ants. Beneath them lay the bodies of 24 people — some only toddlers — buried by a landslide big enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool 100 times over.
At around 2 pm on April 30, a day after the disaster struck, shouts went up from one of the handful of excavation areas. The work was centered on spots above where houses had stood. Men dropped their shovels and rushed to the source of the clamor over uneven heaps of landslide soil moistened by a morning sprinkling of snow. More in hope than certainty, some said under their breath, “They’re alive.”
But the rescuers emerging from the digging site were not carrying survivors, but two small and lifeless bodies. The tiny feet of Madina Abdisalomovna, born in 2015, peeped out from a carefully wrapped blanket. Next to her lay Adina Mamanova, born in 2005. A relative kneeled over the bodies and spent a long moment laying a hand wordlessly over Madina’s still heart.
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Peter Leonard is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.