By Almar Khplwak
Herat, Afghanistan, Oct 10 (EFE).- Thousands of horror-stricken Afghans spent another night under the open sky as aftershocks continued to rock the western Herat province, which is reeling from a devastating earthquake that authorities fear may have left over 4,500 people dead or injured.
Residents and rescue teams are racing against the clock, tirelessly digging through mounds of debris to find survivors.
On Saturday, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake and a series of aftershocks struck the province, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction that has destroyed 20 villages and affected over 12,000 people.
People affected by an earthquake wait for relief in Zinda Jan district of Herat, Afghanistan, 08 October 2023. EFE-EPA/SAMIULLAH POPAL
The de facto Taliban government has confirmed the deaths of 2,400 people due to the weekend quake. However, the authorities fear the actual toll may be even higher.
“It is difficult to know the exact number of deaths and injuries as of now,” Natural Disaster Management Ministry spokesperson Mullah Janan Sayeq told reporters on Monday night.
“Approximately, there have been more than 4,500 deaths and injuries,” said Sayeq.
He said the casualty figures changed constantly because the quake had razed several villages.
A man affected by an earthquake receives food aid in Zinda Jan district of Herat, Afghanistan, 09 October 2023. EFE-EPA/SAMIULLAH POPAL
Sayeq said they were working to look for survivors and simultaneously provide relief to thousands affected in the country, which is already grappling with international sanctions following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021.
Survivors in the affected region now face the agonizing ordeal of waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones, all while striving to ensure their safety as the constant aftershocks continue to instill fear and uncertainty.
Ghulam Hazrat, a Herat city resident, was camping in a small tent last night like thousands of others sharing his plight.
Hazrat and his family are forced to sleep outdoors, as returning home is not an option with the persistent aftershocks.
People dig graves for a mass burial of the victims of an earthquake in Zinda Jan district of Herat, Afghanistan, 09 October 2023. EFE-EPA/SAMIULLAH POPAL
“The children cannot sleep in the house…They suddenly start screaming out of fear. The atmosphere of fear is palpable,” Hazrat, 34, told EFE.
He said there was not even enough food for the children.
And Hazrat’s family is not alone in this predicament. Residents seeking refuge have crowded the city streets, parks, and gardens.
“Most people (…) are out of their homes,” said Murad, 50, who is staying with his family in a city park.
Residents and volunteers work inexhaustibly, using shovels and even their bare hands to sift through the rubble in search of survivors.
Some 124 families are sheltered inside plastic tents at the Ansari camp in Herat, a few kilometers from Zindah Jan, most of them still reeling from shock or waiting hopefully for news of their loved ones who have gone missing.
“There are still a lot of people under rubble, and our priority is to get them out of the dust,” the spokesperson told reporters.
Sabira, a 10-year-old girl, told EFE that they too were trapped under the ground. She and other members of her family survived, but “my two brothers and my nephew have died.”
Bughoor, a woman aged 70–80 years, and her three grandchildren are the only survivors from her family. She is yet to come to terms with her loss.
“My son, his wife, and I were talking when we heard a terrible sound and the roof of the house fell,” killing her son and daughter-in-law, Bughoor told EFE.
Shireendil, 75, lost 24 of the 30 members of his family and is left as the only caregiver for his five surviving grandchildren.
“These children are left alone, without a caregiver, they lost their father, their mother … my family, my relatives have died,” he told EFE.
Access to the Ansari camp is regulated and monitored by the Taliban authorities, and many people in search of their relatives are at the mercy of the guards.
“I want to see if my family members are inside and need me,” pleaded a man before the security guards at the entrance of the camp. His calls fell on deaf ears.
However, after much hassle, he and two other men were allowed inside.
The situation in the western province is precarious, and authorities have declared an emergency due to a lack of resources to handle the catastrophe.
The Taliban’s isolation has hindered aid delivery, despite pleas for international assistance.
However, Iran has offered to send around 20 rescue teams and two sniffer dogs, while other nations are sending limited shipments of medicine, food, and emergency kits.
The European Council announced Tuesday an aid of 3.5 million euros ($3.7 million), 2.5 million euros of which are to be channeled through nonprofits already operating on the ground, and the remaining amount in the form of relief material shipped through Dubai.
The tragedy has overwhelmed the impoverished country, with hospitals operating beyond capacity and inadequate resources to care for the victims.
Afghanistan lies within the Hindu Kush mountain range, known for its high seismic activity and a common source of earthquakes in the surrounding regions.
Consequently, the country is highly susceptible to natural disasters, and its vulnerable population and inadequate infrastructure exacerbate the challenges posed by such events.
The country has experienced several deadly earthquakes, particularly in the Hindu Kush region. EFE