Survivors dig with hands after Afghanistan earthquake kills 1,000

GAYAN, Afghanistan (AP) — Survivors were hand excavated Thursday in villages in eastern Afghanistan, reduced to rubble in a powerful earthquake that killed at least 1,000 people as the Taliban and the international community fleeing their takeover Society is working hard to help victims of disasters.

Villagers stand on mud bricks that used to be their home in Gayan district, the hardest-hit district in Paktika province. Others walked cautiously through muddy alleys, clinging to damaged walls with exposed wooden beams to make way.

The quake was Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades, and officials said the toll could rise. The state news agency said an estimated 1,500 people were injured.

Disaster from 6-magnitude quake brings more misery to the country Millions face growing hunger and poverty The health system has been collapsing since the Taliban returned to power nearly 10 months ago amid the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops. The acquisition caused significant international financing disruptions, with most of the world shunning the Taliban government.

Questions remain about how – and whether the world will allow – the Taliban to provide aid, as rescuers without heavy equipment dig through the rubble with their bare hands.

“We ask the Islamic emirate and the country as a whole to come forward and help us,” said one survivor who identified himself as Hakimullah. “We have nothing, nothing, not even a tent to live in.”

The full extent of the destruction of the village hidden in the mountains slowly surfaced. At best, ruts and hard-to-reach roads could have been badly damaged, with landslides from recent rains making access even more difficult.

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

Rescue workers arrived by helicopter, but the withdrawal of many international aid agencies from Afghanistan after the Taliban took over last August may hamper relief efforts. Furthermore, most governments are wary of dealing directly with the Taliban.

Operational chaos between the Taliban and the rest of the world has seen no formal request from the Taliban to mobilize an international search and rescue team from the United Nations or acquire equipment from neighboring countries to supplement the dozens of ambulances and several helicopters sent. Ramiz Arakbarov, the UN’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, said it was proposed by the Afghan authorities.

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

Eight trucks of food and other essentials from Pakistan arrived in Paktika, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted. He also said on Thursday that two humanitarian aid planes from Iran and another from Qatar had arrived in the country.

Access to more direct international aid can be more difficult: Many countries, including the United States, provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through the United Nations and other such organizations to avoid sending funds into the hands of the Taliban.

In a press release on Thursday, Afghan state television highlighted the recognition that U.S. President Joe Biden — their one-time enemy — mourned the earthquake and pledged aid. Biden on Wednesday ordered “USAID and other federal government partners to evaluate the U.S. response to help those most affected,” the White House statement said.

The quake was concentrated in Paktika province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, according to neighboring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department. Experts believe it is only 10 kilometers (6 miles) deep. Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage.

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

Wednesday’s quake occurred in a landslide-prone area with many older, weaker buildings.

In the Spere district of the neighbouring Khost province, there was also severe damage, with people standing on top of what were once mud houses. The earthquake tore its wooden beams. People sit outside under a makeshift tent made of blankets blown in by the wind.

Survivors quickly prepared the dead in the area, including children and infants, for burial. Officials fear more dead will be found in the coming days.

“It’s hard to gather all the exact information because it’s a mountainous region,” said Sultan Mahmood, head of the Spray district. “The information we have is the information we collect from residents of those areas.”

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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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