Rescue efforts wind down in quake hit Afghanistan as villages bury
Rescue efforts wind down in quake hit Afghanistan as villages bury

Rescue efforts wind down in quake-hit Afghanistan as villages bury dead

HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Rescuers on Tuesday scaled back operations in Afghanistan’s devastated northwest as chances of finding survivors diminished 72 hours after one of the world’s deadliest earthquakes, while villagers in the area held mass funerals for their dead.

At least 2,400 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured, the Taliban-run government said, in the multiple earthquakes that struck northwest of the city of Herat, levelling thousands of homes. Most of the casualties were women and children, the World Health Organisation said.

Relief and rescue efforts have been hampered by infrastructure left crumbling by decades of war and a lack of foreign aid which once formed the backbone of the economy but which has dried up since the Taliban took over.

“The operation is almost done,” spokesman for the Disaster Management Ministry Janan Sayeeq told Reuters, adding that rescue efforts were still going on in some villages.

The U.N. Humanitarian Office had on Sunday put the death toll from the quakes at 1,023, with an additional 1,663 people injured, and more than 500 missing. Sayeeq said a final casualty toll would be released soon.

Hemmed in by mountains, Afghanistan has a history of strong earthquakes, many in the rugged Hindu Kush region bordering Pakistan.

Saturday’s earthquakes – one with a 6.3 magnitude – were one of the deadliest in the world this year, after the quakes in Turkey in Syria which killed around 50,000 people.

The quakes flattened buildings in some 20 villages in the northwest, including Siah Aab village in ​​Zinda Jan district which lost at least 300 residents.

In the village, funeral prayers were held for the dead before they were buried, wrapped in blankets, in freshly dug graves.

“I have lost my four daughters-in-law, my four sons and my grandchildren,” villager Taj Mohammad, 60, said. He said 11 of his family members had been killed in the disaster.

The U.N.’s humanitarian office has announced $5 million worth of assistance for the quake response, but immediate material support has come from just a few countries.

Afghanistan’s healthcare system, largely reliant on foreign aid, has faced crippling cuts in the two years since the Taliban took over and much international assistance was halted.

In addition to medical and food aid, survivors are in dire need of shelter as temperatures drop, the head of the World Health Organization’s emergency response said.

Abdul Sattar, a grave digger in Siah Aab, said the living needed as much support as they can get.

“Their first hope is God, followed by help from other countries,” he said, adding that he and others had already dug more than 500 graves.

(Reporting by Mohammad Yunus Yawar and Syed Hassib; writing by Gibran Peshimam; editing by Miral Fahmy)

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