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Earthquake in Western Afghanistan Kills 2,400

Thousands more injured or bereft of meager possessions after Oct. 7 quake in Herat Province
Published: October 11, 2023
People search for survivors amidst the debris of a house that was destroyed by an earthquake in the district of Zinda Jan, in Herat, Afghanistan, October 8, 2023. (Image: REUTERS/Stringer)

KABUL — More than 2,400 people were killed in earthquakes in Afghanistan’s western province of Herat, the Taliban administration said on Sunday, Oct. 7, in the deadliest tremors to rock the quake-prone mountainous country in years.

Thousands more were left homeless and destitute, with some suffering pneumonia in the cold weather due to the lack of adequate shelter, even tents.

The Saturday quakes in the west of the country hit 35 km (20 miles) northwest of the city of Herat, with one of 6.3 magnitude, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.

“All my family members were under rubble. I was only able to pull my wife and one daughter alive from the rubble. One of my daughters died here, and the other died over there, and there was a school for children which has been entirely destroyed,” a surviving man identified as Ahmad said.

He noted that there was no way for the survivors to get through the winter without tents.

“In some neighboring villages dead bodies are still under the rubble, they couldn’t pull the bodies yet, some people have tents, and some do not, I have no tent, we cannot spend the winter here.”

Ahmad, a villager in Naib Rafi of western Afghanistan’s Herat Province, speaks with a reporter in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that hit the country starting Oct. 7, 2023 (Image: Screenshot/Reuters)
Ahmad counts backpacks he retrieved from the rubble of a school destroyed by the earthquakes. (Image: Screenshot/Reuters)

Other were even worse off.

“I have no life anymore, we were seven family members. I’m the only one left alive, my two sons recently returned from Iran with their wives, all of them are dead. I have no life anymore, it would be good if you kill me as well, winter is coming, tell me how would I survive?” a grieving victim, Lal Mohammad, told reporters.

Another major earthquake rattled Herat on Oct. 11 (Wednesday), resulting in more deaths and injuries.

One quake survivor named Naeemullah Fedaee, said eight of his family members died and some were injured in the aftermath of the earthquake. He said 200 houses were in Naib Rafi village and almost all of them were destroyed.

The recent earthquakes in Afghanistan were among the world’s deadliest quakes this year, after an earthquake in Turkey and Syria killed an estimated 50,000 in February.

Janan Sayeeq, spokesman for the Ministry of Disasters, said in a message to Reuters that the toll had risen to 2,445 dead, but he revised down the number of injured to “more than 2,000”. Earlier, he had said that 9,240 people had been injured.

Sayeeq also said 1,320 houses had been damaged or destroyed. The death toll spiked from 500 reported earlier on Sunday by the Red Crescent.

Ten rescue teams were in the area, which borders Iran, Sayeeq told a press conference.

More than 200 dead had been brought to various hospitals, said a Herat health department official who identified himself as Dr Danish, adding most of them were women and children.

Bodies had been “taken to several places — military bases, hospitals,” Danish said.

Beds were set up outside the main hospital in Herat to receive a flood of victims, photos on social media showed.

Aid trickles in

Food, drinking water, medicine, clothes and tents were urgently needed for rescue and relief, Suhail Shaheen, the head of the Taliban political office in Qatar, said in a message to the media.

“They are having pneumonia because they work during the day and nights are cold in here, some are also having sore-throat, and some people do not have tents, so basically they are facing these challenges,” said medical worker Abdul Razaq who works with the Afghan Red Crescent Society. Quake survivors were also queueing up to collect aid packages in the Zinda Jan district in Herat.

The European Union pledged 3.5 million euros ($3.71 million) in emergency humanitarian aid funding, it said in a statement, adding a new allocation to the 2.5 million euros that will be available for humanitarian partners already carrying out relief operations on the ground.

The statement said the new assistance came in addition to the 89 million euros in humanitarian aid already allocated in 2023 for humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan.

The mediaeval minarets of Herat sustained some damage, photographs on social media showed, with cracks visible and tiles fallen off.

Hemmed in by mountains, Afghanistan has a history of strong earthquakes, many in the rugged Hindu Kush region bordering Pakistan.

Death tolls often rise when information comes in from more remote parts of a country where decades of war have left infrastructure in a shambles, and relief and rescue operations difficult to organize.

A boy cries as he sits next to debris, in the aftermath of an earthquake in the district of Zinda Jan, in Herat, Afghanistan, October 8, 2023. (Image: REUTERS/Stringer)

Afghanistan’s healthcare system, reliant almost entirely on foreign aid, has faced crippling cuts in the two years since the Taliban took over and much international assistance, which had formed the backbone of the economy, was halted.

Pakistan, Iran and China have pledged to send in food, blankets, medicines, tents and funds.

Pakistani Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar said that Kabul had specifically asked for medical teams, field hospitals, tents and blankets, adding that all the requested items were being dispatched on Monday afternoon, with more relief goods to follow.

Diplomats and aid officials say concerns over Taliban restrictions on women and competing global humanitarian crises are causing donors to pull back on financial support. The Islamist government has ordered most Afghan female aid staff not to work, although with exemptions in health and education.

In August, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was likely to end its financial support for 25 Afghan hospitals because of funding constraints. It was not immediately clear if the Herat hospital was on that list.

The quakes triggered panic in Herat, resident Naseema said.

“People left their houses, we all are on the streets,” she wrote in a text message to Reuters on Saturday, adding that the city was feeling aftershocks.

There are a total of 202 public health facilities in Herat province, one of which is the major regional hospital where 500 casualties had been taken, the World Health Organization (WHO)said in a report on Sunday.

A vast majority of the facilities are smaller basic health centres and logistical challenges were hindering operations, particularly in remote areas, the WHO said.

“While search and rescue operations remain ongoing, casualties in these areas have not yet been fully identified,” it said.