Fears of more casualties as further earthquakes hit Afghanistan

Another powerful earthquake struck western Afghanistan on Wednesday morning, days after a series of quakes in the same region killed thousands of people.

The 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit an area 28km (17 miles) south of Herat’s regional capital at 5.11am local time, killing one person and injuring at least 150 people.

Several additional aftershocks were reported in Herat city. Medics at the regional hospital said that “injured people keep arriving”. The 600-bed facility reached full capacity on Saturday afternoon after the earlier quakes.

In a statement, the office of Herat’s governor said several areas devastated by Saturday’s earthquakes had suffered “huge losses”.

“People have suffered losses, and there are additional villages completely levelled,” a senior Taliban official said. “We are en route to the affected areas. There are fears that more people would be under rubble. More than 400 houses are crumbled in just one village.”

Electricity in Herat was reportedly cut on Wednesday morning. Residents said drinking water has turned brown, while access to food in the province is limited as many shops have closed or been destroyed.

On Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of residents began evacuating the city. The roads leading to a nearby desert were congested with cars and people trying to find safety in case of another earthquake.

“Some of our teams have stopped their search in the area of Saturday’s quake and are now heading to areas affected this morning,” a local Taliban official told the Guardian. “We are overwhelmed.”

Reshad, a Herat resident, said: “I don’t know what we did wrong or why God is punishing us. We are seeking refuge in a schoolyard.”

Residents of more than 2,000 villages across Herat province, home to about 3 million people, have evacuated their homes since the weekend. Nearly 3,000 people are believed to have been killed.

People have been sleeping in public parks and streets in the city since Saturday when multiple earthquakes destroyed thousands of homes north-west of the capital. In some parts of the city, dozens of people queued outside shops to buy tents.

Hanif, who lives in Robat Sangi district, said he saw his village crumble on Wednesday morning.

“We were sleeping outdoors on a nearby hill and it was after morning prayer,” he said in a telephone interview. “And then it was all dust.”

Afghan earthquake survivors sleep amid rubble as death toll nears 3,000Read more

Another villager from Robat Sangi said: “We have been living under the scorching sun since Saturday. We cannot afford tents, and our children are in a distressing condition.”

Relief and rescue efforts in response to Saturday’s earthquakes have been hindered by a shortage of overseas aid, which previously served as the backbone of the economy but has dwindled since the Taliban took control in 2021.

Lacking experience in managing natural disasters, the Taliban are facing huge challenges conducting search and rescue operations.

Social media and state TV footage over the past few days has shown members of the Taliban’s rescue teams extracting bricks from piles of rubble with guns slung over their shoulders.

Herat’s historic grand mosque and castle were damaged in the quakes, which were also felt in Iran. Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported that 11 people from the border city of Torbat-e Jam were injured.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) urged world leaders not to forget Afghanistan. “Let’s not add ‘forgotten’ to the long list of tragedies that this resilient nation has already endured,” Tommaso Della Longa, the IFRC spokesperson, said.

The UN has approved $5m (£4m) to help relief efforts. On Tuesday, the EU pledged €3.5m (£3m). Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and China have already committed to sending food, blankets, medicines and tents, as well as offering financial assistance.

However, on the ground in Herat province, Taliban officials voiced their frustration with the promises made by international aid groups.

In a television interview on Wednesday, Herat’s police commander, Abdullah Ensaf, said the situation was “dire”. “There has been some aid, but it’s not noticeable,” he said. “Aid organisations come, survey the situation, and depart. We urge the international community to provide effective aid. People need it urgently.”

Yama Farzan, an economic recovery officer at the Danish Refugee Council, said: “It will take weeks to supply shelter to those affected. Many still lack tents and are sleeping amid the rubble of their destroyed homes.”