Strong earthquakes kill at least 2,000 people in Afghanistan

Two powerful earthquakes of magnitude 6.3 were followed by several strong aftershocks in the west Afghanistan On Saturday, more than 2,000 people were killed and more than 2,000 others injured, according to Taliban disaster management officials.

“2,445 people were killed, including women and children, and 2,440 people were injured, including women and children,” Mullah Janan Saeq, spokesman for the state Ministry of Disaster Management, told CBS News.

He added that the death toll is still rising and that nearly 10,000 live in villages affected by the earthquakes.

According to the US Geological Survey, the epicenter of the quakes was in the Zindajan region, located about 40 kilometers west of the city of Herat, the economic and cultural center of the country in western Afghanistan on the border with Iran. The earthquake was also felt by residents of neighboring Badghis and Farah provinces.

Herat, Afghanistan from above.

Google Maps

“The initial assessment indicates that up to 100 people were killed in eight villages in the Zindagan district of Herat province,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement. “It is understood that Mahal Wadka is the worst affected village.”

“In total, it is estimated that 4,200 people have been affected,” the UN said. “Four hundred and sixty-five homes were reported to have been destroyed and 135 damaged.” The United Nations and local officials have warned that the number could rise much higher.

The earthquake occurred at a time when Afghanistan is witnessing its worst humanitarian crisis due to economic sanctions imposed by Western countries after the country fell into the hands of the Taliban two years ago. Humanitarian organizations were forced to cut off aid to millions of people due to a lack of funding, and the World Food Program was forced “due to a funding crisis” to cut off life-saving food aid to ten million people in Afghanistan this year. In August, the Red Cross stopped funding 25 hospitals in Afghanistan, including Herat Provincial Hospital, due to lack of funding.

Videos shared on social media show villages once filled with mud houses that dotted the landscape have been reduced to piles of dusty rubble. The force of the earthquake caused mud walls and roofs to collapse, trapping women and children under the rubble, and responders dug through layers of collapsed mud, hoping to rescue the people still alive.

“Fourteen members of my family are trapped under this rubble,” one man says in a video shared on social media. He stands alone in the midst of chaos and destruction and cries out the unbearable burden of losing the pillar of his existence. “My 5-year-old is under this rubble,” he said.

In another video shared on social media, a man called for help and showed an entire village destroyed with no sign of a rescue operation. He said: “There are people trapped under this rubble. Raise your shovels and hurry.” He added that the village is close to the city and can be reached by land.

The rescue operation was underway throughout the night, with some shoveling and others digging with their bare hands to discover and retrieve the bodies of their loved ones from under the rubble.

Shapur, who uses only one name, has been digging since his house collapsed on Saturday. He saved many of his family members who are now hospitalized. His elderly mother and two sisters have died, and he is still trying to find his nephews.

“At least finding their bodies makes me feel some relief,” he told CBS News by phone.

Dr. Arif Jalali Herat, the province’s regional director, said all clinics and hospitals were busy treating the wounded rescued from collapsed homes. He said: “We do not have time to count the deaths or the injured,” with the declaration of a state of emergency in the governorate.

Hospitals in Herat province were overwhelmed with wounded, and the Defense Ministry said the critical patient had been airlifted to Kabul province. Videos shared from the hospital show patients lying on the hospital floor.

MSF said in a statement: “Following the earthquake that struck western Afghanistan this morning, MSF set up five medical tents at Herat Regional Hospital to accommodate up to 80 patients.”

Calls for help

The United Nations said that an estimated 2,100 people, including children and women, were displaced to the city of Herat and took refuge in abandoned buildings. Pictures published by local media show a group of survivors gathering together and spending a restless night outdoors.

The Afghan Red Crescent called on the international community and international non-governmental organizations to provide immediate assistance to the affected families.

Abdul Ghani Baradar, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs in the de facto Taliban government, expressed his sympathy for the unfortunate impact of the earthquake and called on the relevant authorities to make immediate relief efforts.

A statement from his office posted on X (formerly Twitter) said he “directed the Disaster Management Committee… to quickly mobilize and use all available resources to assist affected citizens.”

The governor of Herat Province, in a video statement, called on the people to rush to help and prepare medicine and food for the displaced, including women and children.

This is the second strongest earthquake in Afghanistan in less than two years. In June 2022, a powerful 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck parts of eastern Afghanistan, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring more than 1,500 others.

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