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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” to watch the videos surfacing online of the quake’s aftermath, Najafizada said, 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 co-ordination, 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.”

Nearly 97,000 people in Canada identified as Afghan in the 2021 census. The federal government says more than 39,000 refugees from Afghanistan have since arrived in Canada following the Taliban’s takeover of the country in August 2021.

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 co-ordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Herat, said in an e-mail.

“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.

–With files from The Associated Press

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