Fatalities in Afghanistan earthquakes cross 2,000

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As many as 2,053 people have been killed as a result of violent earthquakes that struck Afghanistan late Saturday while 9,240 people have been injured, a government spokesperson confirmed to Reuters on Sunday.

The death toll from the earthquakes, which was previously reported to be 120, is expected to rise as rescue operations are still underway in the affected areas.

“Unfortunately, the casualties are practically very high,” deputy government spokesman Bilal Karimi said early Sunday, as the extent of the damage became clear.

Additionally, 1,328 houses were flattened after eight powerful aftershocks from the magnitude 6.3 earthquake shook the region 30 kilometres northwest of Herat and terrified city people to flee into the streets.

According to Mosa Ashari, Herat disaster management head, late Saturday there had been “about 120” fatalities reported and “more than 1,000 injured women, children, and old citizens”.

A spokesman for the National Disaster Authority said they expect the death toll “to rise very high”.

As night fell in Sarboland village of Zinda Jan district, dozens of homes were razed to the ground near the epicentre of the quakes, which shook the area for more than five hours, AFP reported.

Men shovelled through piles of crumbled masonry as women and children waited in the open, with gutted homes displaying personal belongings flapping in the harsh wind.

A government official confirmed that 1,329 homes were destroyed across the affected areas, Reuters reported. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported more than 600 houses destroyed or partially damaged across at least 12 villages in Herat province, affecting 4,200, according to AFP.

“In the very first shake all the houses collapsed,” said 42-year-old local Bashir Ahmad. “Those who were inside the houses were buried,” he said. “There are families we have heard no news from.”

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.

Afghanistan is already suffering in the grip of a dire humanitarian crisis, with the widespread withdrawal of foreign aid following the Taliban’s return to power in 2021.

Herat province, home to 1.9 million people on Iran’s border, has been severely affected by a drought, affecting many agricultural communities.

Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, particularly in the Hindu Kush mountain range. In June, a 5.9-magnitude quake killed over 1,000 people and left tens of thousands homeless in the impoverished province of Paktika, the deadliest in Afghanistan in nearly a quarter of a century.