Afghans bury the dead and dig for survivors of devastating earthquake

GAYAN, Afghanistan (AP) — Villagers rushed to bury the dead on Thursday and dug by hand through the rubble of their homes in search of survivors of a powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan that , according to state media, killed 1,000 people.

GAYAN, Afghanistan (AP) — Villagers rushed to bury the dead on Thursday and dug by hand through the rubble of their homes in search of survivors of a powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan that , according to state media, killed 1,000 people. The Taliban and the international community who fled their takeover struggled to come to the aid of the victims of the disaster.

Under overcast skies in Paktika province, which was the epicenter of Wednesday’s magnitude 6 earthquake, men dug a line of graves in a village as they tried to quickly lay the dead to rest in accordance to the Muslim tradition. In a courtyard, bodies lay wrapped in plastic to protect them from rains that are hampering relief efforts for the living.

The state-run Bakhtar news agency reported the death toll and said around 1,500 others were injured. In the first independent tally, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said around 770 people had been killed in Paktika and neighboring Khost province.

It is unclear how the totals were arrived at, given the difficulties of access and communication with the affected villages nestled in the remote mountainsides. Either gloomy until the earthquake is Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades, and officials have continued to warn the number could rise further.

“They have nothing to eat, they are wondering what they can have to eat, and it is also raining,” a journalist from Bakhtar said in footage from the quake area. “Their homes are destroyed. Please help them, don’t leave them alone.

The disaster is adding to the misery of a country where millions of people were already facing increasing hunger and poverty and where the health system has collapsed since the Taliban regained power there. nearly 10 months amid US and NATO withdrawal.

How the international humanitarian community, which has withdrawn significant resources from the country, will be able to offer assistance and to what extent the Taliban government will allow it remains in question. The Taliban takeover has cut off vital international funding, and most governments remain reluctant to deal directly with them.

UN agencies and other organizations still active in Afghanistan said they had sent supplies to the region, including medical kits, tents and plastic sheeting, but the needs seemed immense as entire villages suffered damage. massive.

“We ask the Islamic Emirate and the whole country to come and help us,” said a survivor who went by the name of Hakimullah. “We are without anything and have nothing, not even a tent to live in.”

Search and rescue remained a priority. In the hard-hit Gayan district, much of the rubble was too big for people to move with their hands or shovels. They said they hoped big diggers would come out of their distant homes. So far, there was only one bulldozer in the area.

On Wednesday, a UN official said the government had not asked the global body to mobilize international search and rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighboring countries, despite a rare appeal from the supreme leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, to the aid of the world.

UN agencies face a $3 billion funding shortfall for Afghanistan this year, and Peter Kessler, spokesman for the UN refugee agency, said that means he there will be tough decisions about who gets the help.

In addition to political and financial concerns, there were also logistical challenges in getting aid to remote villages. Roads, which are rutted and difficult to navigate at the best of times, may have been badly damaged by the earthquake, and landslides caused by recent rains have made some impassable. Although only 175 kilometers (110 miles) directly south of the capital, Kabul, some villages in Gayan district took a full day’s drive to reach.

Rescuers rushed by helicopter – and Associated Press reporters also saw ambulances in the quake zone on Thursday – but heavier equipment will be difficult to deliver.

The walls and roofs of dozens of houses in Gayan collapsed in the quake, and villagers said entire families were buried in the rubble. Associated Press reporters counted about 50 bodies in the area alone, as people laid their dead in front of their homes and in their yards.

While modern buildings elsewhere withstand magnitude 6 earthquakes, mud-brick houses and landslide-prone mountains in Afghanistan make such quakes more dangerous. Shallow quakes also tend to cause more damage, and experts put Wednesday’s depth at just 10 kilometers (6 miles).

Despite the challenges, officials from several UN agencies said the Taliban were giving them full access to the area.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter that eight truckloads of food and other essentials from Pakistan have arrived in Paktika. He also said on Thursday that two humanitarian aid planes from Iran and another from Qatar had arrived in the country.

Obtaining more direct international assistance can be more difficult: many countries, including the United States, channel humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through the UN and other similar organizations to avoid putting money in the hands of the Taliban.

In a Thursday news report, Afghan state television made a point of acknowledging that US President Joe Biden – their former enemy – had offered his condolences over the earthquake and promised help. Biden on Wednesday ordered the U.S. international aid agency and its partners to “evaluate” options to help the victims, according to a statement from the White House.

The death toll reported by Bakhtar was equal to that of a 2002 earthquake in northern Afghanistan – the deadliest since 1998, when a magnitude 6.1 earthquake and subsequent tremors in the distant northeast killed at least 4,500 people.

Wednesday’s quake was centered in Paktika province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, according to the nearby Pakistan Meteorological Department.

In the Speray district of Khost province, which also suffered severe damage, men stood on top of what was once an earthen house. The earthquake had torn its wooden beams. People sat outside under a makeshift tent made of a blanket blowing in the breeze.

Survivors quickly prepared the district’s dead, including children and a baby, for burial. Officials fear more dead will be found in the coming days.

“The toll this disaster will have on local communities (…) is catastrophic, and the impact the earthquake will have on the already strained humanitarian response in Afghanistan is a matter of grave concern,” said Adnan Junaid, vice president for Asia for the International Rescue Committee. “The worst-affected areas are among the poorest and most remote in Afghanistan, which lack the infrastructure to withstand disasters like this.”


Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Rahim Faiez and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Ebrahim Noroozi, Associated Press

Carol N. Valencia