Earthquakes kill over 2,000 in Afghanistan Saturday

Quakes 'horrible to see'

UPDATE: 12:05 p.m.

Afghans across Canada have gathered together to support one another and plan fundraisers as they scour the news for details about an earthquake that rocked their home country on Saturday, reportedly killing more than 2,000 people.

Farid Teimoury, vice-president of the Afghan Society of Calgary, said he feels helpless watching videos of the devastation wrought by the powerful earthquake in western Afghanistan from more than 10,000 kilometres away in Alberta.

"It's a guilt that you have, right? You're not there to be able to help them out," Teimoury said Sunday.

"All the disasters that have happened, the fall of the government and the earthquake on top of that, and people being displaced … it's hurtful, to be honest. And the most we can do is just gather up a couple of dollars and send it out, and hope for the best."

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicentre of the 6.3-magnitude earthquake was about 40 kilometres northwest of Herat, Afghanistan’s fourth largest city. The quake hit at about 11 a.m. local time and was followed by a series of strong aftershocks.

Entire villages were flattened, bodies were trapped under collapsed houses and locals waited for help without even shovels to dig people out. Videos circulating on social media showed people scrambling to unearth others from beneath piles of rubble with their bare hands.

"It's horrible to see," Teimoury said.

He was part of a group of about 35 Afghans in Calgary who were gathered until late Saturday night to watch the news unfold. Several in the group, including Teimoury's wife, are from Herat province. Luckily, they've all been able to reach their family members and friends back home.

The group is meeting again on Sunday to work out the final details of a fundraiser, which it hopes to launch shortly, Teimoury said.

A Taliban government spokesman said the quake killed more than 2,000 people, but that figure had not been independently verified as of Sunday afternoon. If the toll is correct, the earthquake is among the deadliest to strike the country in two decades.

On the east coast of Canada, Afghans in Newfoundland were preparing to launch an online fundraiser through a crowdsourcing platform.

Maisam Najafizada, an assistant public health professor at Memorial Universty in St. John's, said Afghan Canadians in the city had begun sharing plans and information in a group chat. He has a friend with family near Herat who has not yet been able to contact them, he added.

It was "extremely difficult" for Najafizada to watch the videos surfacing online of the quake's aftermath, noting that he found it particularly chilling to see so much rubble and an absence of any heavy equipment or machinery to help people dig through it.

"It shows the lack of resources and lack of coordination, communication or anything in the 24 hours that have passed so far," he said Sunday. "It's an absolute situation of absolute helplessness at the moment … Hopefully, some help will arrive."

Melanie Joly, Canada's minister of foreign affairs, said in a social media post Saturday that her thoughts were with Afghans as they dealt with the destruction.

"Canada stands ready to support the Afghan people," she wrote on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter.

As of Sunday, Global Affairs Canada said it was not aware of any Canadians missing or killed as a result of the quake. The agency said its registry of Canadians abroad listed 880 Canadians in Afghanistan, though it noted that registration is voluntary.

Ahmed Hussen, Canada's minister of international development, said Ottawa is closely monitoring the situation.

"As we continue to learn more about the devastating earthquake, our thoughts go out to the victims’ family and loved ones," he wrote on X.

Doctors Without Borders said the quake did not cause any damage to the regional hospital in Herat, where the international medical aid charity operates the pediatric in-patient wards.

"When the first earthquake hit … our teams rushed to evacuate all the children who were admitted, many in critical condition," Lisa Macheiner, project coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Herat, said in an email.

"We've dispatched mass casualty kits to treat up to 400 wounded patients and stationed a medical team at the hospital's emergency room for further support if necessary."

The agency said on X that it had set up five medical tents at the hospital, where more than 300 patients had been treated as of Saturday afternoon.

UPDATE: 9:20 a.m.

Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs is offering support to people in Afghanistan after a devastating earthquake rocked the western part of the Asian country on Saturday.

Melanie Joly says on the X platform, formerly Twitter, that "Canada stands ready to support the Afghan people" following the 6.3-magnitude quake that struck near Herat, Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city.

An email from Global Affairs Canada says it is not aware of any Canadians who are missing or who were killed as a result of the earthquake.

Ahmed Hussen, Canada's minister of international development, says Ottawa is closely monitoring the situation.

In a post to X, he calls news of the earthquake "heartbreaking" and he says Canada is thinking of victims' families and loved ones as the details unravel.

A Taliban government spokesman says the quake has killed more than 2,000 people, but as of Sunday morning, that figure has not been independently verified.

ORIGINAL: 6:15 a.m.

Powerful earthquakes killed at least 2,000 people in western Afghanistan, a Taliban government spokesman said Sunday. It’s one of the deadliest earthquakes to strike the country in two decades.

The figures couldn't be independently verified, but if correct, the toll would eclipse that of an earthquake that hit eastern Afghanistan in June 2022, striking a rugged, mountainous region, flattening stone and mud-brick homes and killing at least 1,000 people.

Saturday’s magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit a far more densely populated area, near Afghanistan’s fourth largest city, Herat. It was followed by strong aftershocks.

The United States Geological Survey said the quake’s epicenter was about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Herat city. It was followed by three very strong aftershocks, measuring magnitude 6.3, 5.9 and 5.5, as well as lesser shocks.

On Sunday, people attempted to dig out the dead and injured with their hands in Herat, clambering over rocks and debris. Survivors and victims were trapped under buildings that had crumbled to the ground, their faces grey with dust.

One video, shared online, shows people freeing a baby girl from a collapsed building after being buried up to her neck in debris. A hand is seen cradling the baby’s torso as rescuers ease the child out of the ground. Rescuers said it was the baby’s mother. It is not clear if the mother survived.

Abdul Wahid Rayan, a spokesman at the Ministry of Information and Culture, said Sunday the death toll is higher than originally reported. Villages have been destroyed, and hundreds of civilians are buried under the debris, he said while calling for urgent help.

“Besides the 2,060 dead, 1,240 people are injured and 1,320 houses are completely destroyed,” said Rayan. At least a dozen teams have been scrambled to help with rescue efforts, including from the military and nonprofit organizations like the Red Crescent.

The United Nations migration agency has deployed four ambulances with doctors and psychosocial support counselors to the regional hospital. At least three mobile health teams are on their way to the Zenda Jan district, which is one of the worst affected areas.

Doctors Without Borders set up five medical tents at Herat Regional Hospital to accommodate up to 80 patients. Authorities have treated more than 300 patients, according to the agency.

Irfanullah Sharafzai, a spokesman for the Afghan Red Crescent Society, said seven teams are busy with rescue efforts while other teams are arriving from eight nearby provinces.

“A temporary camp has been set up for people who have lost their houses and need shelter for now," Sharafzai told The Associated Press. “Whatever is in our capacity we will do for our poor and needy people at this difficult time.”

Teams from the aid group described the destruction near Herat as being much worse than initially feared, with entire villages flattened.

Neighboring Pakistan said it was deeply saddened by the earthquake. “We are in contact with the Afghan authorities to get a first-hand assessment of the urgent needs of those affected by the earthquake,” said the Foreign Affairs Ministry. “Pakistan will extend all possible support to the recovery effort.”

China's ambassador to Afghanistan Zhao Xing said his government and the country's charitable institutions were ready to provide all kinds of help. “We are in contact with Afghan government aid agencies to provide aid to the needy,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Afghan cricket star Rashid Khan said he was donating all his Cricket World Cup fees to help Herat’s earthquake survivors. “Soon, we will be launching a fundraising campaign to call upon those who can support the people in need,” he told his 1.9 million followers on X.

Japan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Takashi Okada, expressed his condolences saying on the social media platform X, that he was “deeply grieved and saddened to learn the news of earthquake in Herat province.”

Telephone connections remain unstable in Herat after the disaster, making it hard to get details from affected areas.

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