Afghanistan ends search for survivors of earthquake that killed more than 1,000

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Authorities in Afghanistan have ended the search for survivors of an earthquake that struck on Wednesday and has killed more than 1,000 people, a senior official said on Friday, adding that supplies of medicine and other critical aid were inadequate.

Some 2,000 people were injured and 10,000 houses were partially or completely destroyed by Wednesday’s earthquake in a remote area near the border with Pakistan, Mohammad Nassim Haqqani, a spokesperson for the disaster ministry, told Reuters.

“The search operation has finished, 1,000 are dead and the injured are around 2,000, both serious and superficial injuries,” Haqqani said.

He did not elaborate on why the search for survivors was being called off after some 48 hours. Survivors have been pulled from the rubble of other earthquakes after considerably more time.

Afghan, international rescuers scramble to reach earthquake zone

The 5.9 magnitude quake struck about 160 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of Kabul, in a region of arid mountains dotted with small settlements that has often been at the centre of Afghanistan’s decades of war.

Poor communications and a lack of proper roads have hampered relief efforts in a country already grappling with a humanitarian crisis that has deteriorated since the Taliban took over last August.

Haqqani said Afghanistan did not have enough critical supplies to treat the wounded.

“The health ministry does not have enough drugs, we need medical aid and other necessities because it’s a big disaster,” he said.

‘No shelter’

Entire villages have been levelled in some of the worst-affected districts, where survivors said they were even struggling to find equipment to bury their dead.

“There are no blankets, tents, there’s no shelter. Our entire water distribution system is destroyed. There is literally nothing to eat,” 21-year-old Zaitullah Ghurziwal told an AFP team that reached his village in hard-hit Paktika province.

Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of information for the province, said heavy rain and floods were hampering efforts to reach those affected.

The earthquake struck areas already suffering the effects of heavy rain, causing rockfalls and mudslides that wiped out hamlets perched precariously on mountain slopes.

The quake also toppled mobile phone towers and power lines.

The quake struck about 44 kilometres from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, at a depth of 51 kilometres.
The quake struck about 44 kilometres from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, at a depth of 51 kilometres. © FRANCE 24

The rescue operation was seen as a major test for the hardline Islamist Taliban, who took over as US-led international forces withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years of war.

The country has since been largely isolated, cut off from much direct international assistance due to sanctions.

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates all said on Thursday they plan to send aid. Supplies from neighbour Pakistan have already crossed the border.

India, which has a strained relationship with the Taliban, said it had sent 27 tonnes of supplies on two flights to be handed over to international aid agencies.

Large parts of South Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate is pushing north into the Eurasian plate.

An earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast in 2015, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan. A 6.1 magnitude quake killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan in 2002. And a 6.1 magnitude quake and subsequent tremors in northeast Afghanistan killed at least 4,500 people in 1998.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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