HERAT: A magnitude 6.3 earthquake killed two people in western Afghanistan on Sunday, with damaged prisons emptied and residents fleeing a region where tremors have claimed at least 1,000 lives this past week.
Since Oct 7, a series of potent quakes have jolted Herat province, levelling whole villages, burying families and leaving thousands homeless as winter approaches.
Residents in the provincial capital Herat city had just begun returning to their homes, after days of sleeping outside fearing aftershocks, when the latest quake hit around 8am on Sunday.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said two new fatalities and 154 injuries were registered at Herat regional hospital, where patients were being ferried on stretchers and treated outside under gazebos.
Thousands homeless as winter approaches
“The situation is very critical,” MSF’s Afghanistan Programme Head Yahya Kalilah told AFP. “In terms of psychology, people are panicked and traumatised.”
The latest quake’s epicentre was 33km, northwest of Herat city, and was followed by aftershocks of magnitudes 5.4, 4.2, 4.3 and 4.4, according to the US Geological Survey.
Officials said more than 528 prisoners had been released from Herat province and neighbouring Badghis province because jails “were in danger of collapsing” from quake damage.
The Prisons Administration Authority said those freed included inmates who had served large portions of their sentences and showed signs of reform.
National disaster management officials said they were investigating the scale of Sunday’s earthquake. MSF official Kalilah predicted “casualties will be low”, as mostly residents in the quake-hit areas were already staying outdoors after last week earthquake destroyed their homes.
Herat city resident Haris Aryan said he sent his family south to Farah province to escape the trauma of the quakes.
“Many people, anyone with relatives or accommodation in neighbouring provinces, all of them have fled. Those who do not have anywhere to go… they are spending nights in the roads and parks,” he said.
About the Sunday quake, shopkeeper Hamid Nizami in Herat city called it “a blessing that it happened during the day”, as people were awake.
The quake series began on Oct 7 with a 6.3 tremor and eight powerful aftershocks, which devastated rural villages northwest of Herat city.
The Taliban government said more than 1,000 people were killed, while the WHO put the figure at nearly 1,400 late Saturday.
Another tremor of the same intensity killed one person and injured 130 others days after the initial quakes, as volunteers dug desperately for survivors.
The WHO says nearly 20,000 people have been affected by the string of disasters, with women and children making up most of the fatalities.
Thousands of residents are now living around the ruins of homes where entire families were wiped out in an instant. Aftershocks have left them “in a persistent state of anxiety and fear”, the WHO said.
Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2023