Ziaullah Qazizada's wife and three kids rushed to the airport in Kabul on Sunday, frantic to find a flight home to Minnesota after the Taliban quickly seized control of Afghanistan's capital city.

But once they got there, they encountered a frenzied scene: crowds of people fleeing and pushing to get on planes — any plane — leaving the country. Then gunshots rang out.

"She was very scared. My kids have grown up here in the U.S. and they haven't seen those things and were very worried," said Qazizada, 30, of Bloomington, who moved from Afghanistan to the U.S. six years ago. "Everybody is trying to get out."

As Minnesotans with ties to Afghanistan scramble to help family and friends trapped by the turmoil, local nonprofits and organizations are preparing for an influx of Afghan refugees seeking safety in the U.S.

For now, Qazizada's wife, also a U.S. citizen, and children — ages 9, 7 and 3 — are hunkered down in a safe place in hopes the chaos subsides and the U.S. government helps evacuate them as American citizens. They had planned to stay in Afghanistan through September to visit Qazizada's father-in-law. Neither he nor his wife, nor most Afghans, predicted the country would so quickly fall into Taliban hands.

"We had a strong government," Qazizada said. "I still can't believe it. They didn't face any strong fighting."

On Sunday night, Jane Graupman headed to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to welcome an Afghan family of nine, arriving as part of the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) program, which is open for Iraqi and Afghan translators, interpreters and others (and their families) who helped the U.S. military.

"It's a very special connection," said Graupman, executive director of the International Institute of Minnesota in St. Paul, which has helped 13 Afghans resettle in the state in the past week. "I don't think people know how hard it is. They just left everything behind."

In Richfield, Arrive Ministries is preparing for 35 Afghans to arrive here before Sept. 30 through the SIV program.

"All of this is changing by the minute," said Mike Bergman, executive director of Arrive Ministries, which will help find a new home for the refugees. "That's a lot [of people] but of course it's a pittance compared to what is really needed."

Arrive Ministries, an affiliate of World Relief, an international humanitarian organization, usually helps 100 refugees annually but is now anticipating 350 in the next year. While that's more than triple the number of the past few years, it's similar to the numbers the organization was seeing before President Donald Trump took office in 2017, Bergman said.

"You read these headlines and it feels so distant," he said of the crisis in Afghanistan. "And yet there are families right here in the metro whose lives are very, very, very directly impacted."

Feeling helpless

As the chaos a world away unfolded Monday, Nasreen Sajady was glued to social media and news reports.

Sajady was born in Minnesota, but her uncle and aunt remain in Kabul, refusing to leave their home. On Monday, she sought comfort and perspective from her parents, who emigrated from Afghanistan in the 1970s.

"This is very heartbreaking for our community," said Sajady, 38, of Minneapolis. "It's like an erasure of our existence. History has been repeated. These people have come in and they are going to colonize us with their religion and destroy all of our virtuality and culture to create what they think we're supposed to be like."

Her parents, who live in Minnesota, reassured her that the war-torn country's people are resilient.

"[My mother] messaged me and said: 'Don't forget we are strong women,' " she said. " 'This is not the end, just another fight.' It was a pretty powerful message from someone who has gone through this already ... and knows that you just have to stay strong."

Still, she's worried for the Afghan people, especially women, who will be most at risk under Taliban rule.

"We're all so helpless over here," Sajady added. "The whole diaspora was scrambling and so desperate for people to hear our voices. Some people did but obviously it was too late."

Maria Nezami is a first-generation American who left everything behind when her family moved to the U.S. in 1982. Most of her family lives in the U.S., but she has relatives in Afghanistan and is praying for a peaceful transition of power.

"We're all watching this unfold," said Nezami, 46, of Bloomington. "We don't know what's going to happen. Afghanistan has been through so many years of war. They are tired. They need peace."

'Everybody is worried'

Minnesota has not been a major destination for Afghan refugees in the past.

Since 2010, only four refugees from Afghanistan have settled in the state — three in 2016 and one in 2011, according to the Refugee Processing Center, operated by the U.S. Department of State. That's compared with 1,195 refugees from Somalia and 653 from Burma in 2016.

But the numbers are a bit misleading since they don't include Afghans arriving under the SIV program, Bergman said.

In Minneapolis, the Minnesota Council of Churches also is preparing for more refugee resettlement.

Meanwhile, in Bloomington, Qazizada is restless, unable to eat or sleep and filled with anxiety over the safety of his wife and children. His parents and brothers also live in Afghanistan.

"Everybody is worried about their family," he said. "The future of Afghanistan as far as I can tell is going back to the '90s and even worse than that."

Amina Baha's mother is also stranded in Afghanistan, visiting family with plans to return in September. Baha said her mother watched as the Taliban took the streets Sunday, touting that it now owned and held Kabul.

"Things are unraveling so fast," said Baha, 40, of Blaine. "Everyone is asking, 'What did the Americans do in 20 years?' Most Afghans feel betrayed."

Baha, who was born in Kabul but moved to the U.S. when she was 6, said she also wants people to know the country for much more than its crises and wars. She started a small all-volunteer nonprofit, the Afghan Cultural Society of Minnesota, in 2018 but dissolved it during the pandemic because of a lack of financial support.

"We have a beautiful culture. It basically connects the East to the West," she said. "The Afghan people are so resilient."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141