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6.3 Magnitude Earthquake Shakes Western Afghanistan, Where Earlier Quake Killed Over 2,000

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6.3 Magnitude Earthquake Shakes Western Afghanistan, Where Earlier Quake Killed Over 2,000

Villagers are distraught over the loss of their homes and livestock, often their only possessions, and worry about the coming harsh winter months. 

6.3 Magnitude Earthquake Shakes Western Afghanistan, Where Earlier Quake Killed Over 2,000

Taliban fighters guard at the site of an earthquake in Zenda Jan district in Herat province, of western Afghanistan, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

Another strong earthquake shook western Afghanistan on Wednesday morning after an earlier one killed more than 2,000 people and flattened whole villages in Herat province in what was one of the most destructive quakes in the country’s recent history.

The magnitude 6.3 earthquake on Wednesday was about 28 kilometers (17 miles) outside Herat, the provincial capital, and 10 kilometers (6 miles) deep, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It triggered a landslide that blocked the main Herat-Torghondi highway, Information Ministry spokesman Abdul Wahid Rayan said.

Janan Sayiq, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban government’s national disaster authority, said Wednesday’s earthquake killed at least one person and injured around 120 others.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders said Herat Regional Hospital received 117 people who were injured in Wednesday’s temblor. The group, also known by its French acronym MSF, said it sent additional medical supplies to the hospital and was setting up four more medical tents at the facility.

“Our teams are assisting in triaging emergency cases and managing stabilized patients admitted in the medical tents,” MSF said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Wednesday’s quake also flattened all 700 homes in Chahak village, which was untouched by the tremors of previous days. Now there are mounds of soil where dwellings used to be. But no deaths have been reported so far in Chahak because people have taken shelter in tents this week, fearing for their lives as tremors continue to rock Herat.

Villagers are distraught over the loss of their homes and livestock, often their only possessions, and worry about the coming harsh winter months. Some said they had never seen an earthquake before and wondered when the shaking of the ground would stop.

Many said they have no peace of mind inside the tents for fear the “ground will open and swallow us at any moment.”

The epicenter of Saturday’s quake — also of the same magnitude 6.3 — was about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the provincial capital, and several aftershocks have been strong.

Taliban officials said more than 2,000 had died across Herat after the earlier quakes. They subsequently said the quakes killed and injured thousands but didn’t give a breakdown of casualties.

Besides rubble and funerals after Saturday’s devastation, there is little left of the villages in the region’s dusty hills. Survivors are struggling to come to terms with the loss of multiple family members. In many places, living residents are outnumbered by volunteers who had come to search the debris and dig mass graves.

In Naib Rafi, a village that previously had about 2,500 residents, people said almost no one was still alive besides men who were working outside when the quake struck. Survivors worked all day with excavators to dig long trenches for mass burials.

On a barren field in the district of Zinda Jan, a bulldozer removed mounds of earth to clear space for a long row of graves.

“It is very difficult to find a family member from a destroyed house and a few minutes to later bury him or her in a nearby grave, again under the ground,” said Mir Agha, from the city of Herat, who had joined hundreds of volunteers to help the locals.

Nearly 2,000 houses in 20 villages were destroyed, the Taliban have said. The area hit by the quakes has just one government-run hospital.

On Tuesday, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Zinda Jan was the worst-affected area, with more than 1,300 people killed and nearly 500 people still reported missing.

He said U.N. satellite imagery also indicated extreme levels of destruction in the district of Injil.

“Our humanitarian colleagues warn that children are particularly vulnerable and have suffered severe psychological distress from the earthquake,” he said.

Earthquakes are common in Afghanistan, where there are a number of fault lines and frequent movement among three nearby tectonic plates. Afghans are still reeling from recent quakes, including the magnitude 6.5 earthquake in March that struck much of western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, and an earthquake that hit eastern Afghanistan in June 2022, flattening stone and mud-brick homes and killing at least 1,000 people.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the main spokesman for the Taliban government, listed the countries that have so far aided the people affected by the quake in Herat, in a statement posted on X.

He said Iran sent 15 vehicles loaded with aid alongside support and technical teams, while Turkey sent medical teams food, non-food items, and medicine. The United Arab Emirates and Turkmenistan also helped with food, medicine, and clothes.

He added a technical team of 49 members from Kazakhstan is assisting those affected by the quake.

In his post, Mujahid said Saudi Arabia provided financial assistance to the people of Herat while China donated $200,000 in cash aid through the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

Neighboring Pakistan is among the countries that have offered assistance, but the delivery of its humanitarian aid has been on hold since Monday.

On Wednesday morning, the pledged supplies had yet to leave Pakistan. Authorities were waiting for “clearance” from the Taliban, two government officials in Islamabad said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Ties between the two countries have come under pressure since Pakistan announced a deadline for undocumented migrants, including 1.7 million Afghans living illegally in the country, to leave before October 31 to avoid arrests and forced deportation.