Nabi said it made sense that his father had tried to save someone in danger.
“He’s helped everyone who’s a refugee,” he said, describing how his father went to the airport to greet refugees, and help get them started in their new lives.
"Whether you’re from Palestine, Iraq, Syria — he’s been the first person to hold his hand up," Nabi said.
His work on behalf of refugees was most likely linked to the family's experience. In the 1980s when Nabi was 6, his family emigrated from Afghanistan to New Zealand in the wake of the Soviet Union's invasion.
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Daoud Nabi, an engineer, had set out to establish roots in their new home, founding a mosque and becoming the president of a local Afghan association. The family prospered and grew to include nine grandchildren.
Now Nabi hardly knows what to do with himself.
"I’m a bit lost," he said. "He is a man of lots of knowledge, and I’ve been his student for a long time."
Other families were also desperately searching for news. Janna Adnan Ezat from Christchurch posted on Facebook that she has not been able to make contact with her son who was at one of the mosques.
“I don’t know whether my son Hussein El Omari is alive or dead,” she wrote. “The roads are blocked and we families are waiting at the hospital for word.”
Ezat said that her son’s phone also rang without answer and that his car was not at home.