Villagers in eastern Afghanistan yesterday rushed to bury the dead and dug by hand through the rubble of their homes in search of survivors of an earthquake that killed at least 1,000 people.
The Taliban and the international community that fled their takeover struggled to bring help to the disaster’s victims.
Under a leaden sky in Paktika Province, which was the epicenter of Wednesday’s magnitude 6 earthquake, men dug a line of graves in one village, as they tried to lay the dead to rest quickly in line with Muslim tradition. In one courtyard, bodies lay wrapped in plastic to protect them from the rains that are hampering relief efforts for the living.
The quake was the country’s deadliest in two decades, and officials said the toll could rise. An estimated 1,500 people were reported injured, the state-run Bakhtar news agency said.
“They don’t have anything to eat, they are wondering what they can have to eat, and it is also raining,” a Bakhtar reporter said in footage from the quake zone. “Their houses are destroyed. Please help them, don’t leave them alone.”
The disaster heaps more misery on a country where millions already face increasing hunger and poverty, and the health system has crumbled since the Taliban retook power nearly 10 months ago amid the US and NATO withdrawal. The takeover led to a cutoff of vital international financing, and most of the world has shunned the Taliban government.
How the international humanitarian community, which has pulled back significant resources from the country, will be able to offer aid and whether the Taliban government would allow it remain unclear.
In a rare move, the Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada pleaded for help from the world on Wednesday — but a UN official said the government had not requested that the world body mobilize international search-and-rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighboring countries.
“We ask from the Islamic emirate and the whole country to come forward and help us,” said a survivor who gave his name as Hakimullah. “We are with nothing and have nothing, not even a tent to live in.”
The full extent of the destruction among the villages tucked in the mountains was slow in coming to light. The roads, which are rutted and difficult to travel in the best of circumstances, might have been badly damaged in the quake, and landslides from recent rains have made some impassable.
Although just 175km directly south of the capital, Kabul, some villages in hard-hit Gayan District took a full day’s drive to reach.
Walls and roofs of dozens of homes in the district collapsed in the quake, and villagers said whole families were buried under the rubble.
The Associated Press journalists counted 50 bodies in the area alone, as people laid out their dead in front of their houses and in their courtyards.
Much of the rubble was too large for people to move with their hands or shovels.
They said they hoped large excavators would make it to their remote homes.
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