Survivors dig by hand after Afghanistan earthquake that killed 1,000

GAYAN, Afghanistan (AP) – Survivors Thursday hand-dug through villages in eastern Afghanistan reduced to rubble by a powerful earthquake that killed at least 1,000 people as the Taliban and the international community fleeing their takeover struggled. to help the victims of the disaster.

In the hard-hit Gayan district of Paktika province, villagers stood atop the mud bricks that once housed there. Others carefully walked through unmade alleys, clutching at damaged walls with exposed wooden beams to find their way.

The earthquake was the deadliest in Afghanistan in two decades, and officials said the toll could rise. An estimated 1,500 others were injured, according to the state news agency.

The disaster inflicted by the earthquake measuring 6 on the Richter scale is adding to the misery in a country where millions face increasing hunger and poverty and the health system has been crumbling since the Taliban recaptured power almost 10 months ago during the US-NATO withdrawal. The takeover led to a shutdown of vital international funding, and most of the world has shunned the Taliban government.

How — and whether the Taliban will allow — the world to provide aid remains a question, as rescuers without heavy equipment dug through the rubble with their bare hands.

“We are asking the Islamic emirate and the entire country to come forward and help us,” said one survivor who mentioned his name Hakimullah. “We are nothing and have nothing, not even a tent to live in.”

The full extent of the devastation between the villages hidden in the mountains was slowly coming to light. The roads, worn out in the best of conditions and difficult to access, may have been badly damaged and landslides from the recent rain have made access even more difficult.

While modern buildings elsewhere withstand earthquakes at magnitude 6 on the Richter scale, Afghanistan’s mud and brick houses and landslide-prone mountains make such earthquakes even more dangerous.

Rescue workers rushed by helicopter, but relief efforts could be hampered by the exodus of many international aid organizations from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last August. In addition, most governments are hesitant to deal directly with the Taliban.

As a sign of the shaky cooperation between the Taliban and the rest of the world, the Taliban had not formally requested the UN to mobilize international search and rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighboring countries to supplement the several dozen ambulances and various helicopters that were ordered. sent. by the Afghan authorities, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN’s deputy special representative in Afghanistan.

Still, officials from multiple UN agencies said the Taliban gave them full access to the area.

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

Getting more direct international aid can be more difficult: Many countries, including the US, funnel humanitarian aid into Afghanistan through the UN and other such organizations to prevent money from ending up in the hands of the Taliban.

In a news bulletin Thursday, Afghan state television made a point of acknowledging that US President Joe Biden — their former enemy — expressed his condolences over the earthquake and promised aid. Biden on Wednesday ordered “USAID and other federal government partners to assess US response capabilities to help those most affected,” according to a White House statement.

The quake struck in Paktika province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of Khost city, according to the neighboring Pakistan Meteorological Department. Experts estimate the depth at just 10 kilometers (6 miles). Shallow earthquakes tend to do more damage.

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

Wednesday’s earthquake struck in a region prone to landslides, with much older, weaker buildings.

In the neighboring Speray district of Khost province, which also suffered serious damage, men stood atop what was once a mud house. The quake had ripped open the wooden beams. People sat outside under a makeshift tent made from a blanket that blew in the wind.

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

“It is difficult to gather all the exact information because it is a mountainous area,” said Sultan Mahmood, head of the Speray district. “The information we have is what we’ve gathered from the residents of these areas.”

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

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