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Death toll from Afghanistan earthquakes rises to 2,000

Hundreds of civilians buried under debris, says Taliban spokesperson

Namita Singh
Sunday 08 October 2023 14:20 BST
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Locals search for survivors in Afghanistan as death toll from quake rises to over 2,000

At least 2,000 people have died from the earthquakes that shook Afghanistan on Saturday, a Taliban spokesperson has confirmed.

A powerful magnitude 6.3 earthquake followed by strong aftershocks destroyed about six villages, in what has been described as the deadliest earthquake to strike the country in two decades.

Hundreds of civilians have been buried under the debris, said Abdul Wahid Rayan, spokesperson for the ministry of information and culture, while calling for urgent help.

Mullah Janan Sayeeq, the spokesperson for the ministry of disaster [management], told reporters that 2,053 people were dead, 9,240 were injured and 1,329 houses were damaged or destroyed.

More than 200 dead had been brought to different hospitals, a Herat health department official who identified himself as Dr Danish said. “Most of them are women and children, while 510 are injured. These numbers might change.”

Bodies had been “taken to several places – military bases, hospitals,” Dr Danish said. “That is why we can’t confirm or reject the number.”

The United Nations gave a preliminary figure of 320 dead but later said the figure was still being verified.

Local authorities gave an estimate of 100 people killed and 500 injured, according to the same update from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The update also said 465 houses had been reported destroyed and a further 135 were damaged.

“Partners and local authorities anticipate the number of casualties to increase as search and rescue efforts continue amid reports that some people may be trapped under collapsed buildings,” the UN said.

Disaster authority spokesperson Mohammad Abdullah Jan said that four villages in the Zenda Jan district in Herat province bore the brunt of the quake and aftershocks.

The United States Geological Survey said that the quake’s epicentre was about 25 miles northwest of the city of Herat. It was followed by three very strong aftershocks, measuring magnitude 6.3, 5.9 and 5.5, as well as lesser shocks.

Afghan residents clear debris from a damaged house after an earthquake in Sarbuland village of Zendeh Jan district of Herat province on 7 October (AFP via Getty Images)

At least five strong tremors struck the city around noon, Herat city resident Abdul Shakor Samadi said. “All people are out of their homes,” Mr Samadi said. “Houses, offices and shops are all empty and there are fears of more earthquakes. My family and I were inside our home, I felt the quake.” His family began shouting and ran outside, afraid to return indoors.

“The situation was very horrible, I have never experienced such a thing,” said student Idrees Arsala. He was the last to safely evacuate his classroom after the earthquakes hit.

Nek Mohammad told reporters that his home flattened after the tremor struck. “We came home and saw that actually there was nothing left. Everything had turned to sand,” said the 32-year-old, adding that some 30 bodies had been recovered.

“So far, we have nothing. No blankets or anything else. We are here left out at night with our martyrs,” he said as darkness began to fall. The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Afghanistan said it dispatched 12 ambulance cars to Zenda Jan to evacuate casualties to hospitals.

“As deaths and casualties from the earthquake continue to be reported, teams are in hospitals assisting the treatment of wounded and assessing additional needs,” the UN agency said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “WHO-supported ambulances are transporting those affected, most of them women and children.”

Telephone connections went down in Herat, making it hard to get details from affected areas. Videos on social media showed hundreds of people in the streets outside their homes and offices in Herat city.

People gather on the streets in Herat after the earthquake (AFP via Getty Images)

Herat province borders Iran. The quake was also felt in the nearby Afghan provinces of Farah and Badghis, according to local media reports.

Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban-appointed deputy prime minister for economic affairs, expressed his condolences to the dead and injured in Herat and Badghis.

The Taliban urged local organisations to reach earthquake-hit areas as soon as possible to help take the injured to hospital, provide shelter for the homeless, and deliver food to survivors. They said security agencies should use all their resources and facilities to rescue people trapped under debris.

“We ask our wealthy compatriots to give any possible cooperation and help to our afflicted brothers,” the Taliban said on X.

Takashi Okada, Japan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, expressed his condolences saying on the social media platform X, that he was “deeply grieved and saddened to learn the news of earthquake in Herat province”.

In June 2022, a powerful earthquake struck a rugged, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan, flattening stone and mud-brick homes. The quake killed at least 1,000 people and injured about 1,500.

Additional reporting from the agencies

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