A powerful earthquake struck western Afghanistan on Saturday, causing widespread destruction and loss of life in the region. The initial quake, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, hit about 20 miles west of the city of Herat, the third largest city in the country. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported that the earthquake was followed by several strong tremors and aftershocks.
According to local officials, the death toll has risen to more than 2,500 people, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in Afghanistan in the last 20 years. State-run media Bakhtar News Agency reported that at least 12 villages in the Zinda Jan and Ghorian districts of Herat province have been completely destroyed, leaving thousands of people homeless.
A spokesman for the Kabul police, Khalid Zadran, said that aid teams were working in the area, but that the affected people still needed shelter. He urged wealthy compatriots to give any possible cooperation and help to the afflicted brothers and sisters in the region. The Taliban, who control several areas in Afghanistan, called for local organizations to assist in the impacted areas by providing food and shelter for survivors and the homeless.
Videos and photos on social media show crowds of survivors gathering in the streets for safety. Residents of Herat, such as Abdul Shakor Samadi, reported that the impact of the earthquake forced many people to evacuate their homes. “All people are out of their homes,” Samadi said. “Houses, offices, and shops are all empty, and there are fears of more earthquakes.”
.@WHO extends our thoughts to the people of Herat, @Afghanistan who have been affected by the earthquake today. We have sent medicines & medical supplies to the hospitals to support treatment of those wounded. Our warehouse is ready to deploy for additional medicines as needed. pic.twitter.com/2WkDBophEc
— WHO Afghanistan (@WHOAfghanistan) October 7, 2023
The Afghan Ministry of Disasters said that more than 2,000 people were injured and at least 1,320 houses were destroyed or damaged by the earthquake. Janan Sayeeq, a spokesman for the ministry, told Reuters that the number of martyrs caused by the earthquake has now reached 2,053.
The WHO Afghanistan office announced that it had dispatched 12 ambulances to Zenda Jan, one of the worst-hit areas, to transport casualties to hospitals. “As deaths and casualties from the earthquake continue to be reported, teams are in hospitals assisting in the treatment of the wounded and assessing additional needs,” the WHO officials said. “Most of the affected people are women and children.”
Afghanistan lies in a seismically active zone, with frequent earthquakes occurring in the Hindu Kush mountain range, near the convergence of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. Last year, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake in June killed more than 1,000 people and left tens of thousands of people homeless in the Paktika province.
The country, already struggling with ongoing conflicts and political instability, now faces the added challenge of rebuilding after this devastating earthquake. International aid and support are expected to pour in to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts.