8 Oct 2023

Over 2000 Feared Dead As Series Of Powerful Earthquakes Jolt Western Afghanistan Near Iran Border

Hundreds of people are feared dead with many more injured after a powerful earthquake jolted western Afghanistan, near the Iranian border.

The death count from a series of earthquakes in western Afghanistan rose sharply Sunday to more than 2000 as rescuers scrabbled for survivors among the ruins of villages razed to the ground. A foreign ministry spokesman said the Taliban would welcome international help.

The earthquake had a magnitude of 6.3 and occurred approximately 40 kilometers from the western Afghan city of Herat. It occurred at around 11:00 local time (06:30 GMT).

Many buildings were damaged, leading to people being trapped under rubble. There were also multiple powerful aftershocks following the initial quake.

Rescuers labored to clear heaps of crumbled masonry while women and children stood in the exposed outdoors, their ravaged residences revealing personal possessions fluttering in the unforgiving gusts.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 600 houses were either completely destroyed or suffered partial damage in at least 12 villages within Herat province, affecting approximately 4,200 individuals.

The WHO said late Saturday "the number of casualties is expected to rise as search and rescue operations are ongoing".

In Herat city, residents fled their homes and schools, hospitals and offices evacuated when the first quake was felt. There were few reports of casualties in the metropolitan area, however.

'Buildings shook and collapsed around us'

Survivors described their terror as buildings shook and collapsed around them. Some shared their experiences of plaster falling from walls and walls developing cracks.

"We were in our offices and suddenly the building started shaking. Wall plaster started to fall down and the walls got cracks, some walls and parts of the building collapsed." Herat resident Bashir Ahmad told media.

"I am not able to contact my family, network connections are disconnected. I am too worried and scared, it was horrifying," he added.

"In the initial tremor, every single house crumbled," recounted Bashir Ahmad, a 42-year-old resident. "Those who were inside the houses became trapped," he continued. "There are families we have not received any updates from."

Nek Mohammad said he was at his workplace when the initial earthquake hit.

Upon returning home, he lamented, "Upon our return, we were confronted with a stark reality – there was nothing left. Everything had been reduced to sand." The 32-year-old mentioned that they had recovered approximately 30 bodies.

He continued, "At this point, we have absolutely nothing. We lack even the basics like blankets. "

There are reports about the high number of casualties. 

Hospitals flooded with injured

Hospitals faced a sudden and overwhelming demand for emergency treatment. as they were flooded with injured people. Video footage showed people receiving treatment outside the main building of Herat Central Hospital.

Injil district in Herat witnessed scenes of devastation, with rubble from destroyed buildings blocking roads and making rescue efforts more challenging.

Herat is considered the cultural capital of Afghanistan and is located relatively close to the Iranian border. It has a significant population, with around 19 lakh people living in the province according to 2019 World Bank data.

Afghanistan is prone to earthquakes, particularly in the Hindu Kush mountain range, due to its location near the convergence of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

A previous earthquake in Paktika province in June of the previous year, which had a magnitude of 5.9 had resulted in a high number of casualties and displaced individuals.

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