Afghanistan earthquakes kill 2,053, Taliban say, as death toll spikes

Published October 8, 2023
People injured in the earthquake are being treated by doctors in Afghanistan. — Photo courtesy: UnicefAfg/X
People injured in the earthquake are being treated by doctors in Afghanistan. — Photo courtesy: UnicefAfg/X

Powerful earthquakes in Afghanistan have killed more than 2,000 people and injured more than 9,000, the Taliban administration said on Sunday, in the deadliest tremors in years in the quake-prone mountainous country.

Amid the confusion, the death toll from Saturday’s quakes spiked from 500 reported on Sunday morning by a Red Crescent spokesperson and 16 from Saturday night.

The quakes hit 35 km (20 miles) northwest of the city of Herat, with one measuring 6.3 magnitude, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.

Mullah Janan Sayeeq, spokesman for the Ministry of Disasters, told Reuters that 2,053 people were dead, 9,240 injured and 1,329 houses damaged or destroyed.

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

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

The quakes caused panic in Herat, resident Naseema said on Saturday.

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

Herat — 120 kilometres east of the border with Iran — is considered the cultural capital of Afghanistan.

It is the capital of Herat province, which is home to an estimated population of 1.9 million, according to 2019 World Bank data.

Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

In June last year, more than 1,000 people were killed, and tens of thousands rendered homeless after a 5.9-magnitude quake — the deadliest in Afghanistan in nearly a quarter of a century — struck the impoverished province of Paktika.

Afghanistan is already in the grip of a grinding humanitarian crisis, following the widespread withdrawal of foreign aid since the Taliban returned to power in 2021.

Pakistan offers support

The Foreign Office (FO) on Sunday said that Pakistan was deeply saddened by the devastating earthquake in the western regions of Afghanistan that resulted in the tragic loss of life and widespread damage to property.

“We extend our sincerest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and pray for the early and complete recovery of the injured,” the statement added.

The FO said Pakistan stood in complete solidarity with “our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan” during this difficult time, adding that it will extend all possible support to the recovery effort.

“We are in contact with the Afghan authorities to get a first-hand assessment of the urgent needs of those affected by the earthquake,” the statement concluded.

Separately, Ubaidur Rehman Nizamani, the head of mission at the Pakistan embassy in Afghanistan, said Pakistan was prioritising the dispatch of search and rescue teams, medicines, food and shelter items.

“We stand with our Afghan brethren in these difficult times,” he added in a post on X.

Meanwhile, ex-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif said he was deeply grieved to learn about the deaths and injuries caused by the earthquake in Afghanistan.

“My heartfelt condolences are with the bereaved families! I also pray for the early recovery of the injured,” he said.

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