Senior Taliban officials visit villages struck by earthquake that killed at least 2,000 people

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A senior Taliban delegation visited 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 temblors to strike the country in two decades.

Disaster authority spokesperson Janan Sayiq told reporters in Kabul that so far around 4,000 people have been killed and injured — without giving a breakdown — and nearly 2,000 houses have been completely destroyed in 20 villages. The United Nations estimated the dead and injured to be closer to 2,500 people.

The Taliban-appointed deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Abdul Ghani Baradar, and his team are visiting 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. Authorities said Monday they were still waiting for an update on the latest casualties from Herat.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake’s epicenter was about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest 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.



Top U.N officials visited one of the most-affected areas in the Zinda Jan district to assess the extent of the damages. Immediately after the quake, UN humanitarian agencies and partners ramped up emergency life-saving efforts, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

“This is a big tragedy. The earthquake neither spared lives of thousands nor did their houses and properties. It’s now time for action,” said Roza Otunbayeva, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan and head of UNAMA.

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.



Dozens of teams have scrambled to help with rescue efforts, including from the military and nonprofit groups. Sayiq, from the disaster authority, said that more than 35 teams alongside local people were involved in rescue operations.

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 nongovernmental groups have appealed for the international community to come forward but only a handful of countries have publicly offered support, including neighboring China and Pakistan. Some countries, such as Denmark and Norway, have said they will work with international partners and humanitarian agencies on the ground.

Aid group CARE USA — a member of CARE International umbrella — said in a statement that the quake struck at a time when Afghanistan was already facing a severe humanitarian crisis that was significantly underfunded while needs were 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.”

Azimi was referring to the magnitude 6.5 earthquake in March that struck much of Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. Also, an earthquake 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.

“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,” said World Vision, a global charity.

Reinforcements from Kabul arrived on Sunday but the area of the quake has only one government-run hospital.

“Our colleagues and their families are processing this devastation in their hometowns, and yet we are responding with everything we have,” said Thamindri de Silva, the head of the Afghanistan office of the charity. “People need urgent medical care, water, food, shelter and help to stay safe. Please stand with us as we respond.”

The International Rescue Committee IRC said in a statement the earthquake caused significant damage to villages and infrastructure and that emergency response teams have been deployed to the area to provide immediate humanitarian assistance.

The IRC said in a statement that, including bridges in the affected region.

Salma Ben Assia, IRC Afghanistan director, said that even before the devastating earthquake struck, “over 29 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance. The earthquake has further exacerbated the situation,” warning that harsh winter conditions can have a disastrous effect on those displaced, particularly women and children.

In neighboring Pakistan, the government held a special session to review aid for Afghanistan, including relief teams, food items and medicine, 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 Ahmad.

Meanwhile Taliban’s justice ministry has called on all national and international charity foundations, businessmen and citizens across the country to mobilize and gather urgent humanitarian aid to needy people in Herat province.

“Due to the extent of damages and casualties caused by this incident, a large number of our compatriots in Herat province need urgent humanitarian aid,” the ministry of justice said in a statement. It urged charitable foundations across the country to “urgently mobilize and distribute their aid to the earthquake victims of this province.”


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