A series of earthquakes and aftershocks in west Afghanistan are feared to have claimed hundreds of lives, with many more injured.
Estimated deaths have spiked to 500, less than a day after the quakes hit, the Red Crescent said on Sunday – a sharp increase from Saturday, when only 16 deaths were confirmed.
The Taliban, which has ruled Afghanistan since overthrowing the democratically-elected government in 2021, meanwhile put the death toll at over 2,000. The group said public health officials were visiting Herat to assess the scale of the impact.
Abdul Wahid Rayan, a spokesman at the ministry of information, 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 Mr Rayan. At least a dozen teams have been scrambled to help with rescue efforts, including from the military and nonprofit organisations like the Red Crescent.
Multiple quakes struck the war-torn country near the Iranian border on Saturday. The epicentre of the disaster was around 25 miles north-west of Herat, where 12 villages faced powerful aftershocks.
One quake measured 6.3 magnitude, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said, after tremors started at around 11am local time on Saturday. The highest recorded magnitude of an earthquake is 9.5.
More than 200 victims had been “taken to several places – military bases, hospitals”, a Herat health department official told Reuters, adding most of them were women and children.
“People left their houses, we all are on the streets,” Herat resident Naseema said. She said that her city was feeling follow-on tremors.
Survivors have described buildings collapsing around them and rescuers worked through the night attempting to find people trapped under the rubble.
The country’s infrastructure and facilities are buckling under the volume of people needing treatment, and hospitals are struggling to treat the injured. The UN have rushed to provide emergency supplies.
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,” Mr Sharafzai said. “Whatever is in our capacity we will do for our poor and needy people at this difficult time.”
Hamid Quaderi, who manages a bank in Herat, told i: “One of my colleagues who lives in the Zindajin district has had his family’s home destroyed. The volume of destruction and disaster is huge and there are not enough services. Our friend tells us there is not enough aid for the people affected. The families really need food, shelter and medical aid.”
Herat resident Bashir Ahmad told AFP: “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. I am not able to contact my family… I am too worried and scared, it was horrifying,” he added.
Footage has emerged showing casualties in Herat Central Hospital treated outside the main building due to the sudden demand on emergency services. In the Injil district, rubble blocked roads preventing rescue efforts.
“The situation was very horrible, I have never experienced such a thing,” student Idrees Arsala said. Mr Arsala was the last of his class to safely evacuate the building after the quakes began.
This comes after an earthquake killed at least 3,000 people in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains just last month.
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