Desperate rescuers fought against time and heavy rain on Thursday to reach remote areas in eastern Afghanistan after a powerful earthquake killed at least 1,000 people and left thousands more behind homeless.
Wednesday’s 5.9-magnitude quake hit hardest in the rugged east, knocking down mobile phone towers and power lines while triggering landslides and landslides that blocked mountain roads.
“Getting information on the ground is very difficult because of bad networks,” Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, information officer for the hard-hit province of Paktika, told AFP on Thursday, adding that there was no immediate update of the death toll.
“The area has been affected by flooding due to heavy rain last night… access to the affected sites is also difficult.”
The disaster poses a huge logistical challenge to Afghanistan’s new Taliban government, which has isolated itself from much of the world by introducing an intransigent Islamist regime that subjugates women and girls.
The aid-dependent country saw most of its foreign aid cut following the Taliban takeover last August, and even before the earthquake the United Nations warned of a humanitarian crisis which threatened the entire population.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the global agency was “fully mobilized” to help, deploying health teams and supplies of medicine, food, trauma kits and supplies. emergency shelters in the earthquake zone.
“Like a Tsunami”
Afghan government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted on Thursday that aid flights had landed from Qatar and Iran, while Pakistan had sent trucks carrying tents, medical supplies and food to across the land border.
The quake hit areas already feeling the effects of heavy rains, causing rockfalls and mudslides that wiped out hamlets perched precariously on mountain slopes.
UN humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov told reporters that nearly 2,000 homes were likely destroyed, a huge number in a region where the average household size is more than 20 people.
“Seven people in one room, five in the other room, four in another and three in another were killed in my family,” Bibi Hawa told AFP from a hospital bed in the capital Paktika.
“I can’t speak anymore, my heart is weakening.”
Hospital director Mohammad Yahya Wiar said they were doing their best to treat everyone.
“Our country is poor and lacks resources,” he told AFP. “It’s a humanitarian crisis. It’s like a tsunami.”
Footage released by the Taliban shows residents of a village digging a long trench to bury the dead, who, according to Islamic tradition, should be buried facing Mecca.
Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghan emergency response teams were called upon to deal with the natural disasters that frequently strike the country.
But with only a handful of planes and helicopters airworthy since returning to power, any immediate response to the latest disaster is even more limited.
“The government is working within its capacity,” tweeted Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official.
“We hope the international community and aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation.”
Offers of help
The United States, whose troops helped overthrow the original Taliban regime and remained in Afghanistan for two decades until Washington withdrew them last year, was “deeply saddened” by the earthquake, the White House said.
“President Biden is monitoring the evolving situation and has asked USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and other federal government partners to assess U.S. response options to help those most affected. “National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
The European Union was quick to offer its assistance.
Tomas Niklasson, EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan, tweeted: “The EU is monitoring the situation and stands ready to coordinate and provide emergency EU assistance to affected individuals and communities.”
Prayers for the victims
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
Dozens of people were killed in January when two earthquakes hit the western province of Badghis.
In 2015, more than 380 people were killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook both countries.
Afghanistan’s deadliest recent earthquake killed 5,000 people in May 1998 in the northeastern provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.
From the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims of the latest earthquake.
“I express my closeness to the injured and those who have been affected,” the 85-year-old pontiff said at the end of his weekly audience.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)