Powerful earthquakes killed at least 2,000 people in western Afghanistan, a Taliban government spokesman said Sunday. It’s one of the deadliest earthquakes to strike the country in two decades.
The figures couldn’t be independently verified, but if correct, the toll would eclipse that of an earthquake that hit eastern Afghanistan in June 2022, 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 United States Geological Survey said the quake’s epicenter was about 25 miles northwest of Herat city. It was followed by three very strong aftershocks, measuring magnitude 6.3, 5.9 and 5.5, as well as lesser shocks.
On Sunday, 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 grey 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.
Abdul Wahid Rayan, a spokesman at the Ministry of Information and Culture, said Sunday the death toll is 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,” said Rayan. At least a dozen teams have been scrambled to help with rescue efforts, including from the military and nonprofit organizations like the Red Crescent.
The United Nations 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, according to the agency.
Irfanullah Sharafzai, a spokesman for the Afghan Red Crescent Society, said seven teams are busy with rescue efforts while other teams are 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 told The Associated Press. “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,” said the Foreign Affairs Ministry. “Pakistan will extend all possible support to the recovery effort.”
China’s ambassador to Afghanistan Zhao Xing said his government and the country’s charitable institutions were ready to provide all kinds of help. “We are in contact with Afghan government aid agencies to provide aid to the needy,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Afghan cricket star Rashid Khan said he was donating all his Cricket World Cup fees to help Herat’s earthquake survivors. “Soon, we will be launching a fundraising campaign to call upon those who can support the people in need,” he told his 1.9 million followers on X.
Japan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Takashi Okada, 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.”
Telephone connections remain unstable in Herat after the disaster, making it hard to get details from affected areas.