Powerful earthquakes over the weekend killed at least 2,000 people in western Afghanistan, a Taliban government spokesman said yesterday.
It is one of the deadliest series of earthquakes to strike the country in two decades.
The figures could not be independently verified, but if correct, the toll would eclipse that of an earthquake that hit eastern Afghanistan in June last year, striking a rugged, mountainous region, flattening stone and mud-brick homes and killing at least 1,000 people.
Saturday’s magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit a far more densely populated area, near Afghanistan’s fourth largest city, Herat. It was followed by strong aftershocks.
The US Geological Survey said the quake’s epicenter was about 40km northwest of Herat. It was followed by three strong aftershocks, measuring magnitude 6.3, 5.9 and 5.5, as well as lesser shocks.
Yesterday, people attempted to dig out the dead and injured with their hands in Herat, clambering over rocks and debris. Survivors and victims were trapped under buildings that had crumbled to the ground, their faces gray with dust.
One video, shared online, shows people freeing a baby girl from a collapsed building after being buried up to her neck in debris. A hand is seen cradling the baby’s torso as rescuers ease the child out of the ground.
Rescuers said it was the baby’s mother.
It is not clear if the mother survived.
Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture spokesman Abdul Wahid Rayan yesterday said that the death toll was higher than originally reported.
Villages have been destroyed, and hundreds of civilians are buried under the debris, he said while calling for urgent help.
“Besides the 2,060 dead, 1,240 people are injured and 1,320 houses are completely destroyed,” Rayan said.
At least a dozen teams have been scrambled to help with rescue efforts, including from the military and nonprofit organizations such as the Afghan Red Crescent Society.
The UN migration agency has deployed four ambulances with doctors and psychosocial support counselors to the regional hospital. At least three mobile health teams are on their way to the Zenda Jan District, which is one of the worst affected areas.
Doctors Without Borders set up five medical tents at Herat Regional Hospital to accommodate up to 80 patients.
Authorities have treated more than 300 patients, the agency said.
Afghan Red Crescent Society spokesman Irfanullah Sharafzai said that seven teams were busy with rescue efforts while other teams were arriving from eight nearby provinces.
“A temporary camp has been set up for people who have lost their houses and need shelter for now,” Sharafzai said. “Whatever is in our capacity, we will do for our poor and needy people at this difficult time.”
Teams from the aid group described the destruction near Herat as being much worse than initially feared, with entire villages flattened.
Neighboring Pakistan said it was deeply saddened by the earthquake.
“We are in contact with the Afghan authorities to get a first-hand assessment of the urgent needs of those affected by the earthquake,” the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “Pakistan will extend all possible support to the recovery effort.”
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