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Powerful earthquakes kill at least 2,000 in Afghanistan

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Two magnitude 6.3 powerful earthquakes followed by several strong aftershocks in western Afghanistan on Saturday killed more than 2,000 people and injured over 2,000 more, according to Taliban disaster management officials.

"2445 people, including women and children, were killed and 2440 people including women and children are wounded" Mullah Janan Saiq a spokesman for the state Ministry for Disaster Management told CBS News.

He said the death toll is still on the rise and nearly 10,000 lived in the villages affected by the earthquakes.

According to the United States Geological Survey, the epicenters of the quakes were in the Zindajan district, which is located about 40 kilometers west of Herat city, the country's economic and cultural hub in western Afghanistan bordering Iran. The quakes were also felt in neighboring Badghis and Farah provinces.

Herat, Afghanistan from above. Google Maps

"Initial assessment indicates that as many as 100 people have been killed across eight villages in Zindajan district, Herat province," the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement. "Mahal Wadakah is understood to be the worst affected village."

"In total, 4,200 people are assessed to have been affected," the UN said. "Four hundred and sixty-five houses are reported to have been destroyed and 135 damaged." The figure could go much higher, the UN and local officials warned.

The earthquake happened as Afghanistan is in the worst humanitarian crisis with economic sanctions from the Western countries after the country fell to the Taliban two years ago. Humanitarian organizations were forced to cut aid to millions of people due to funding shortfalls, and, "due to a funding crisis," the World Food Programme was forced to cut 10 million people off life-saving food assistance in Afghanistan this year. In August, the Red Cross ended funding for 25 hospitals in Afghanistan, including Herat Regional Hospital, due to funding shortages.

Videos shared on social media show villages once full of mud houses that used to dot the landscape have been reduced to piles of earthy rubbles. The force of the earthquake caused mud walls and ceilings to crumble, trapping women and children under the debris and responders digging layers of collapsed clays, hoping to rescue people still alive.

"Fourteen members of my family are trapped under this debris," says one man in a video shared on social media. He stands solitary among chaos and destruction and screams with the unbearable burden of losing the pillar of his existence. "My 5-year-old is under these debris," he said.

In another video shared to social media, a man pleaded for help and showed an entire village that was destroyed with no sign of rescue operation. "There are people trapped under these debris" he said, "pick up your shovels and rush." He said the village is near to the city and accessible by road.    

The rescue operation was underway overnight, as some shoveled and others dug with bare hands to discover and pull out the bodies of their loved ones from under the debris.

Shapoor, who uses only one name was shoveling digging with hands since his house was collapsed on Saturday. He rescued several of his family members who are now moved to hospital. His elderly mother and two sisters died, and he is still trying to find his nephews.

"At least finding their dead bodies make me a bit comfort" he told CBS News over the phone.

Dr. Arif Jalali Herat, the provincial's regional director, said all clinics and hospitals are busy treating wounded people rescued from the collapsed homes. He said, "We have no time to count the deaths or injured patients" as an emergency was declared in the province.

Hospitals in Herat province was overwhelmed with wounded patients, and the Ministry of Defense said critical patience were transferred by air to Kabul province. Videos shared from the hospital show patients laying on the hospital's ground.

"Following the earthquake in western Afghanistan this morning, MSF has set up five medial tents at the Herat regional hospital to accommodate up to 80 patients," said Doctors without Borders in a statement.

Calls for assistance

The UN said an estimated 2,100 people, including children and women, have been displaced to Herat city and took shelter in abandoned buildings. Images released by local media show a group of survivors huddling together and spending a restless night in the open.

Afghan Red Crescent called on international community and international NGOs to provide immediate assistance to the families affected.

Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban de facto government's deputy prime Minister for economic affairs, extended his sympathy for the unfortunate impact of the earthquake and called on relevant authorities for immediate relief efforts.

He "directed disaster Management Commission ... to swiftly mobilize and utilize all available resources to assist the affected citizens," said a statement from his office posted on X (formerly Twitter).

The provincial governor of Herat province, in a video statement, called on people to rush to help and prepare medicine and food for the displaced people, including women and children.

It is the second deadliest earthquake in Afghanistan in less than two years. In June 2022, a 5.9 magnitude strong earthquake struck parts of eastern Afghanistan, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring more than 1,500 others.

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