World · June 23, 2022

Afghanistan earthquake updates: rescuers are looking for survivors

Credit…Ali Khara / Reuters

Hopes of finding more survivors of Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in decades were fading Thursday as officials said relief efforts were nearing completion in the mountainous and remote areas most affected by the temblor.

The focus has shifted to assisting the injured and sheltering the homeless due to a disaster believed to have killed more than 1,000 people.

The difficult terrain and profound poverty in the south-eastern region of Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan, presented a particular challenge for aid. Some residents lived in clay and straw houses and entire villages were believed to have been nearly wiped out by the earthquake. Thousands of people spent the night in an unseasonably cold, some affected by rain, wind and even snow.

The worst damage appeared to be in Paktika province, although the center of the 5.9-magnitude quake was about 28 miles southwest, the United States Geological Survey said.

“Assistance from the relief agencies included health care, food, tents and blankets, but the crisis is widespread in the area and it is not enough,” said Sanaullah Masoum, spokesman for the provincial governor of Paktika. “We call on humanitarian agencies to provide more food, health and humanitarian assistance.”

Some supplies had arrived in the country, the Taliban government said, including by air from Iran and Qatar and by land from Pakistan. Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said eight trucks loaded with goods from Pakistan were delivered to the affected areas and additional supplies had reached Kabul, the capital, and would soon be delivered to the earthquake zone.

The area is far from many clinics or hospitals that could help the injured. The Afghan Ministry of Defense has sent seven helicopters and a medical team to transport the wounded to military and civilian hospitals, the state news agency said.

Mr. Masoum said the Paktika rescue operation ended on Wednesday evening. Local authorities in Afghanistan have told international organizations that their search and rescue efforts in the areas are 90% complete and that aid groups are focusing on providing shelter and assistance to survivors, Isabelle Moussard Carlsen said. Head of the Afghanistan Office of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

On Thursday, temperatures rose rapidly, raising concerns that people who suffered from a freezing night would soon be left out of the blistering heat, Ms. Carlsen said. Lack of clean water and clean sanitation could lead to illness in the coming days and weeks, exacerbating the crisis, she said.

“They are layers and layers of aggravating factors,” he said. “After the immediate life-saving response, these communities will take a long time to recover. There was already a very high vulnerability in the area “.

Telephone and Internet coverage is poor or non-existent in some parts of the region, making it difficult to assess the damage and the exact death toll. Ramiz Alakbarov, a UN deputy special representative, said Wednesday that nearly 2,000 homes had been destroyed.

Mohammad Almas, head of aid and appeals at Qamar, a charity active in the area, said that since the earthquake struck at night, most people were sleeping inside. More than 25 villages were nearly destroyed, even when a landslide after the earthquake wiped out one, he said. In one village, he added, a house collapsed on 18 family members, leaving only one child alive.