Over 2,400 people were killed in earthquakes that shook western Afghanistan on Saturday, the Taliban administration said, in one of the deadliest tremors to rock the quake-prone mountainous country in years. The Saturday quakes in the west of the country hit 35 km (20 miles) northwest of Herat, with one of 6.3 magnitude, and was followed by solid aftershocks, including ones measuring 5.5 and 5.9.
The spokesperson of the disaster authority told TOLO that most deaths were in villages around the Zenda Jan district in Herat province. Some houses were utterly destroyed, he added. The ministry also cited damage in other parts of the country, including Farah and Badghis.
Hundreds are reported missing, and the death toll will likely rise as search and rescue efforts continue. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that partners anticipate increasing casualties as some are feared trapped under collapsed buildings.
OCHA said that local authorities have declared a state of emergency in the region and are conducting a thorough assessment of the damage. The agency urges all residents to stay indoors and away from damaged buildings.
Residents in Herat City, a few dozen miles from the epicenter of the quakes, say they are living in fear. Many have reportedly left their homes, with some sleeping outdoors. An AFP reporter in Sarboland village saw gutted homes reduced to rubble after the tremors. Personal belongings lay outside, and children and women waited for relief trucks to pass by.
Most rural homes in the country are built around wooden support poles and have little in the way of modern steel reinforcement. The tremors may have exacerbated the effects of a decades-long war in Afghanistan and the impoverished nation’s vulnerability to natural disasters.
Thousands of Afghans are already facing severe food and drinking water shortages, with nearly half of the population living below the poverty line. The quakes are likely to strain their already precarious livelihoods further.
The Taliban spokesman for humanitarian affairs, Suhail Shaheen, called for international help and aid to reach the affected families. “Food, drinking water, medicine, clothes, and tents are urgently needed,” he said in a message to the media.
The earthquakes came a week after a series of solid tremors killed and injured tens of thousands in Turkey and Syria on February 6. They were among the world’s deadliest quakes this year, with the combined toll surpassing 41,000 worldwide. They sparked outrage at the inability of nations to respond quickly enough. The UN has appealed for $1 billion to provide emergency assistance after the earthquakes. The United States has offered $500 million, while China and Russia have pledged $250 million and $20 million, respectively. The UN says the influx of funding is crucial to reaching the most vulnerable. It will include emergency relief and reconstruction to restore essential services.