Taliban chiefs visit Afghan villages hit by quake that killed at least 2,000

A senior Taliban delegation was visiting western Afghanistan’s Herat province on Monday in the aftermath of the powerful earthquake that killed at least 2,000 people over the weekend and flattened entire villages, a statement said.

Saturday’s magnitude 6.3 quake hit a densely populated area in Herat and was followed by strong aftershocks in what was one of the deadliest earthquakes to strike the country in two decades.

Taliban-appointed deputy prime minister for economic affairs Abdul Ghani Baradar and his team will visit the quake-affected region on Monday to deliver “immediate relief assistance” and ensure “equitable and accurate distribution of aid”, according to a statement from the capital, Kabul.

The quake also trapped hundreds and people have been digging with their bare hands and shovels to pull victims – both dead and alive – from under the rubble.

Afghanistan Earthquake
Rescuers search for victims of the earthquake in Herat province (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

The United Nations estimated the dead and injured to be closer to 2,500 people.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake’s epicentre was about 25 miles (40km) north-west of the city of Herat, the provincial capital. It was followed by three very strong aftershocks, measuring magnitude 6.3, 5.9 and 5.5, as well as lesser shocks.

Residents of the city rushed out of their homes again on Monday to stay on the streets after another aftershock hit. The USGS said the aftershock was magnitude 4.9.

“I have lost five members of my family; three daughters, my mother, my sister-in-law, and three from my uncle’s family,” said Asadullah Khan. He added that a total of 23 people in his village were killed.

A global response to the Afghanistan quake has been slow, with much of the world wary of dealing directly with the Taliban government and focused on the deadly escalation between Israel and the Palestinians in the aftermath of the surprise attack by Gaza militants on Saturday that has left more than 1,100 dead in fighting so far and thousands wounded on both sides.

Aid agencies and non-governmental groups have appealed for the international community to come forward but only a handful of countries have publicly offered support, including neighbouring China and Pakistan.

Aid group Care USA – a member of Care International – said in a statement that the quake struck at a time when Afghanistan was already facing a severe humanitarian crisis which was significantly underfunded while needs are increasing rapidly.

The fast-approaching winter, combined with this new disaster, is likely to exacerbate the existing challenges and make it even more difficult for people to meet their basic needs, like adequate shelter, food, and medicine, it said.

“Care is deeply saddened by the devastating earthquake that struck the western province of Herat,” said Reshma Azmi, the group’s deputy director for Afghanistan.

“This comes less than seven months after another powerful earthquake hit the country, leaving thousands homeless and displaced.”

Ms Azmi was referring to the magnitude 6.5 earthquake in March that struck much of Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan.

An earthquake also hit eastern Afghanistan in June 2022, striking a rugged, mountainous region, wiped out stone and mud-brick homes and killed at least 1,000 people.

Global charity World Vision said: “The situation is worse than we imagined, with people in devastated villages still desperately trying to rescue survivors from under the rubble with their bare hands.”

APTOPIX Afghanistan Earthquake
Afghan women mourn relatives killed in the earthquake (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Thamindri de Silva, head of the charity’s Afghanistan office, said: “Our colleagues and their families are processing this devastation in their hometowns, and yet we are responding with everything we have.

“People need urgent medical care, water, food, shelter and help to stay safe. Please stand with us as we respond.”

Dozens of teams have scrambled to help with rescue efforts, including from the military and non-profit groups.

Irfanullah Sharafzai, a spokesman for the Afghan Red Crescent Society, said more than 20 teams were on the ground on Monday and have set up a temporary camp for the displaced.

In neighbouring Pakistan, the government held a special session to review aid for Afghanistan, including relief teams, food items and medicines, as well as tents and blankets.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said on X, formerly Twitter, that he was deeply saddened by the devastation in Afghanistan.

“Our hearts go out to the affected communities. We stand in solidarity with the Afghans during this difficult time,” he said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian called his Afghan Taliban counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, to express condolences, according to a post on X by Hafiz Zia Ahmad, the deputy spokesman for the foreign ministry in Kabul.

The Iranian diplomat “promised humanitarian aid to victims,” said Mr Ahmad.

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