The death toll from a series of earthquakes that struck western Afghanistan on Saturday has risen sharply to over 2,000, with rescue efforts underway to find survivors amidst the wreckage of razed villages.
The initial magnitude 6.3 earthquake, followed by eight powerful aftershocks, rocked hard-to-reach areas situated 30 kilometers northwest of Herat, the provincial capital. The tremors caused rural homes to collapse and sent urban residents into panic, flooding the streets.
According to Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman for the Taliban government, who posted on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), the disaster management agency has confirmed “2,053 fatalities across 13 villages, with 1,240 people injured, and 1,320 houses completely destroyed.”
As night descended upon Sarboland village in the Zinda Jan district, an AFP reporter witnessed dozens of homes reduced to rubble near the quake’s epicenter. The earthquakes persisted for more than five hours, leaving men frantically sifting through debris while women and children sought refuge in the open, with destroyed homes bearing witness to their personal belongings scattered in the harsh winds.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that more than 600 houses were either completely destroyed or partially damaged in at least 12 villages in Herat province, affecting approximately 4,200 people.
Bashir Ahmad, a 42-year-old resident, shared, “In the very first tremor, all the houses collapsed. Those who were inside the houses were buried. There are families from whom we have received no news.”
Nek Mohammad recounted his experience, saying that he was at work when the initial earthquake struck around 11:00 AM (0630 GMT). “We came home and saw that actually there was nothing left. Everything had turned to sand,” said the 32-year-old. He added that about 30 bodies had been recovered so far.
“The number of casualties is expected to rise as search and rescue operations are ongoing,” noted the WHO late on Saturday.
In Herat city, residents fled their homes, while schools, hospitals, and offices were evacuated as the first earthquake struck. Fortunately, there have been few reports of casualties in the metropolitan area.
This disaster compounds Afghanistan’s existing humanitarian crisis, worsened by the withdrawal of foreign aid following the Taliban’s return to power in 2021. Herat province, with a population of around 1.9 million people bordering Iran, has also been grappling with a prolonged drought that has exacerbated the struggles of many agricultural communities.
Afghanistan is frequently plagued by earthquakes, particularly in the Hindu Kush mountain range, located near the convergence of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. Last year in June, a 5.9-magnitude earthquake, the deadliest in nearly 25 years, claimed over 1,000 lives and left tens of thousands homeless in the impoverished province of Paktika.