The death toll after a series of earthquakes in western Afghanistan rose sharply to more than 1,000 on Sunday, while rescue workers are still searching for survivors in the rubble.
Saturday’s 6.3 magnitude earthquake, followed by eight strong aftershocks, hit remote areas about 30 km northwest of the provincial capital Herat. Houses were destroyed and panicked residents took to the streets.
“Unfortunately, the deaths are very high,” Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesman for the government, said on Sunday morning when the extent of the damage became clear. “The death toll is more than 1,000 people. We are still waiting to see what the final figures will be,” he told AFP.
By Saturday evening, an AFP reporter saw dozens of houses destroyed in Sarboland, Zinda Jan. The earthquakes shook the area for more than five hours.
Men dug through the rubble while women and children waited in the open.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said more than 600 houses were destroyed or partially damaged in at least 12 towns in Herat province. About 4,200 people are affected by this.
“During the first tremor, all the houses collapsed,” said 42-year-old Bashir Ahmad. “Those who were inside their homes were buried. There are families we haven’t heard from yet.”
Nek Mohammad told AFP he was at work when the first tremor struck around 11:00 a.m. (0630 GMT). “We got home and saw that there was actually nothing left. Everything turned to sand,” the 32-year-old man said, adding that around 30 bodies had been found. “So far we have nothing. Not even a blanket or anything else.”
The WHO said on Saturday night that the death toll was likely to rise as search and rescue operations continued.
Afghanistan is already in the grip of a humanitarian crisis with large-scale withdrawal of foreign aid after the Taliban took over power again in 2021.
The Herat province, where around 1.9 million people live on the border with Iran, has also been plagued by a drought for years. This crippled agricultural communities, which were already under pressure.
Afghanistan experiences frequent earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range. More than 1,000 people died and tens of thousands were left homeless in June last year after a 5.9 earthquake in Paktika.