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Afghans sift through destruction after an earthquake in Gayan village, in Paktika province, Afghanistan, on June 23.Ebrahim Noroozi/The Associated Press

Villagers rushed to bury the dead Thursday and dug by hand through the rubble of their homes in search of survivors of a powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan that state media reported killed 1,000 people. Residents appeared to be largely on their own to deal with the aftermath as their new Taliban-led government and the international aid community struggled to bring in help.

Under a leaden sky in Paktika province, the epicentre of Wednesday’s earthquake where hundreds of homes have been destroyed, men dug several long trenches on a mountainside overlooking their village. They prayed over around 100 bodies wrapped in blankets and then buried them.

In villages across Gayan District, toured by Associated Press journalists for hours Thursday, families who had spent the previous rainy night out in the open lifted pieces of timber of collapsed roofs and pulled away stones by hand, looking for missing loved ones. Taliban fighters circulated in vehicles in the area, but only a few were seen helping dig through rubble.

There was little sign of heavy equipment – only one bulldozer was spotted being transported. Ambulances circulated, but little other help to the living was evident.

Many international aid agencies withdrew from Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power nearly 10 months ago. Those that remain are scrambling to get medical supplies, food and tents to the remote quake-struck area, using shoddy mountain roads made worse by damage and rains.

“We ask from the Islamic Emirate and the whole country to come forward and help us,” said a survivor who gave his name as Hakimullah. “We are with nothing and have nothing, not even a tent to live in.”

Search and rescue staff helped villagers on June 23 to move the injured out of the quake zone and provide relief supplies to the many who have been left homeless.

Reuters

The scenes underscored how the magnitude 6 quake has struck a country that was already nearly on its knees from multiple humanitarian crises.

The quake took the lives of 1,000 people, according to the state-run Bakhtar News Agency, which also reported an estimated 1,500 more were injured. In the first independent count, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said around 770 people had been killed in Paktika and neighbouring Khost province.

It’s not clear how the totals were arrived at, given the difficulties of accessing and communicating with the affected villages. Either grim toll would make the quake Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades, and officials continued to warn the number could still rise.

Since the Taliban took over in August amid the U.S and NATO withdrawal, the world pulled back financing and development aid that had been keeping the country afloat. The economy collapsed, leaving millions unable to afford food; many medical facilities shut down, making treatment harder to find. Nearly half the population of 38 million faces crisis levels of food insecurity.

Many aid and development agencies also left after the Taliban seizure of power. The UN and remaining agencies said they were moving blankets, food, tents, and medical teams to the area.

Earthquake hits Afghanistan

An earthquake of magnitude 6.1 killed nearly a thousand people in Afghanistan early on Wednesday, disaster management officials said, with hundreds injured and the toll expected to grow as information trickles in from remote mountain villages.

Shakemap intensity

Magnitude of

earthquakes in

past 10 years

5.9

2

7

3

AFGHANISTAN

Detail

PAKISTAN

Kabul

Parachinar

Gardiz

Epicentre

AFGHANISTAN

PAKISTAN

0

50

KM

Zhob

Note: A shakemap represents the ground shaking produced by an earthquake. The information is different from the earthquake‘s magnitude and epicentre as a shakemap focuses on the variation in ground shaking produced by the earthquake, rather than describing the earthquake‘s source or strength.

REUTERS, SOURCES: UNITED STATES GEOLOGICAL SURVEY; NATURAL EARTH; SHUTTLE RADAR TOPOGRAPHY MISSION

Earthquake hits Afghanistan

An earthquake of magnitude 6.1 killed nearly a thousand people in Afghanistan early on Wednesday, disaster management officials said, with hundreds injured and the toll expected to grow as information trickles in from remote mountain villages.

Shakemap intensity

Magnitude of

earthquakes in

past 10 years

5.9

2

7

3

Kabul

Parachinar

Gardiz

Ghazni

Epicentre

AFGHANISTAN

Bannu

PAKISTAN

Zareh Sharan

AFGHANISTAN

PAKISTAN

0

50

Zhob

KM

Note: A shakemap represents the ground shaking produced by an earthquake. The information is different from the earthquake‘s magnitude and epicentre as a shakemap focuses on the variation in ground shaking produced by the earthquake, rather than describing the earthquake‘s source or strength.

REUTERS, SOURCES: UNITED STATES GEOLOGICAL SURVEY; NATURAL EARTH; SHUTTLE RADAR TOPOGRAPHY MISSION

Earthquake hits Afghanistan

An earthquake of magnitude 6.1 killed nearly a thousand people in Afghanistan early on Wednesday, disaster management officials said, with hundreds injured and the toll expected to grow as information trickles in from remote mountain villages.

5.9

Shakemap intensity

Magnitude of earthquakes

in past 10 years

3

2

7

Asadabad

Kabul

Peshawar

Parachinar

Gardiz

Ghazni

Epicentre

AFGHANISTAN

Bannu

PAKISTAN

Zareh Sharan

Kundian

AFGHANISTAN

Detail

PAKISTAN

Zhob

0

50

KM

Note: A shakemap represents the ground shaking produced by an earthquake. The information is different from the earthquake‘s magnitude and epicentre as a shakemap focuses on the variation in ground shaking produced by the earthquake, rather than describing the earthquake‘s source or strength.

REUTERS, SOURCES: UNITED STATES GEOLOGICAL SURVEY; NATURAL EARTH; SHUTTLE RADAR TOPOGRAPHY MISSION

But they are overstretched, and UN agencies are facing a $3-billion funding shortfall for Afghanistan this year. That means there will be difficult decisions about who gets aid, said Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the United Nations’ refugee agency.

Local medical centres, already struggling to deal with malnutrition cases, were now overwhelmed with people injured by the quake, said Adnan Junaid, the International Rescue Committee vice president for Asia.

“The toll this disaster will have on the local communities … is catastrophic, and the impact the earthquake will have on the already stretched humanitarian response in Afghanistan is a grave cause for concern,” Junaid said.

The Defense Ministry, which leads the Taliban emergency effort, said it sent 22 helicopter flights on Wednesday transporting wounded and taking supplies, along with several more Thursday.

Still, the Taliban’s resources have been gutted by the economic crisis. Made up of insurgents who fought for 20 years against the U.S. and NATO, the Taliban have also struggled to make the transition to governing.

On Wednesday, a UN official said the government had not requested that the world body mobilize international search-and-rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighbouring countries, despite a rare plea from the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, for help from the world.

Trucks of food and other necessities arrived from Pakistan, and planes full of humanitarian aid landed from Iran and Qatar, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter. Pakistan also opened several nearby border crossings to allow those affected by the disaster to cross, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sherif said in a call with the Taliban Prime Minister Mullah Hasan Akhund.

Obtaining more direct international help may be more difficult: Many countries, including the U.S., funnel humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through the UN and other organizations to avoid putting money in the Taliban’s hands, wary of dealing with the group, which has issued a flurry of repressive edicts curtailing the rights of women and girls and the press.

Germany, Norway and several other countries announced they were sending aid for the quake, but underscored that they would work only through UN agencies, not with the Taliban.

In a news bulletin Thursday, Afghanistan state television made a point to acknowledge that President Joe Biden of the United States – their one-time enemy – offered condolences over the earthquake and had promised aid. Biden on Wednesday ordered the U.S. international aid agency and its partners to “assess” options for helping the victims, a White House statement said.

UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, told the UN Security Council in a video briefing he intends to visit quake-hit areas on Friday and “to meet with affected families, first-hand responders, including women’s civil society groups who are working to ensure that assistance reaches women and girls, and to support overall relief efforts.”

In Paktika province, the quake shook a region of deep poverty, where residents scrape out in a living in the few fertile areas among the rough mountains. Roads are so difficult that some villages in Gayan District took a full day to reach from Kabul, though it is only 175 kilometres (110 miles away.)

One 6-year-old boy in Gayan wept as he said his parents, two sisters and a brother were all dead. He had fled the ruins of his own home and took refuge with the neighbours.

While modern buildings withstand magnitude 6 earthquakes elsewhere, Afghanistan’s mud-brick homes and landslide-prone mountains make such quakes more dangerous.

One man, Rahim Jan, stood inside the few standing mud-brick walls of his home with the toppled roof timbers all around him.

“It is destroyed completely, all my belongings are gone,” he said. “I have lost 12 members of my family in this house.”

A magnitude 6.1 earthquake has killed at least 1,000 people in Afghanistan early on Wednesday, disaster management officials said. The disaster poses a major test for the Taliban-led government, which seized power last year.

Reuters

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