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Death toll from earthquakes in western Afghanistan rises to over 2,000, Taliban says

The death toll from strong earthquakes that shook western Afghanistan has risen to 2,060, a Taliban government spokesperson said Sunday. Canadian officials say they are monitoring the situation and stand ready to help.

6 villages reported destroyed, hundreds of people feared buried under debris

Two men sit in the rubble of an earthquake in Afghanistan.

The death toll from strong earthquakes that shook western Afghanistan has risen to 2,060, a Taliban government spokesperson said Sunday. It's one of the deadliest earthquakes to strike the country in two decades.

A powerful 6.3-magnitude earthquake followed by strong aftershocks killed dozens of people in western Afghanistan on Saturday, the country's national disaster authority said.

But Abdul Wahid Rayan, spokesperson at the Ministry of Information and Culture, said the death toll from the earthquake in Herat is higher than originally reported. Six villages have been destroyed and hundreds of civilians have been buried under the debris, he said while calling for urgent help.

The United States Geological Survey said the quake's epicentre was about 40 kilometres northwest of the city. It was followed by three very strong aftershocks, measuring magnitude 6.3, 5.9 and 5.5, as well as lesser shocks.

On Sunday, Canada foreign affairs minister Mélanie Joly said in a social media post that "Canada stands ready to support the Afghan people" in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

Ahmed Hussen, Canada's minister of international development, said Ottawa is closely monitoring the situation.

"As we continue to learn more about the devastating earthquake, our thoughts go out to the victims' family and loved ones," he wrote on X.

Heartbreaking news from western Afghanistan. As we continue to learn more about the devastating earthquake, our thoughts go out to the victims’ family and loved ones.<br><br>Canada is closely monitoring the situation.

&mdash;@HonAhmedHussen

As of Sunday, Global Affairs Canada said it was not aware of any Canadians missing or killed as a result of the quake. The agency said its registry of Canadians abroad listed 880 Canadians in Afghanistan, though it noted that registration is voluntary.

Disaster authority spokesperson Mohammad Abdullah Jan said four villages in the Zenda Jan district in Herat province, which borders Iran, bore the brunt of the quake and aftershocks.

At least five strong tremors struck the city around noon, Herat city resident Abdul Shakor Samadi said.

"All people are out of their homes," Samadi said. "Houses, offices and shops are all empty and there are fears of more earthquakes. My family and I were inside our home, I felt the quake." His family began shouting and ran outside, afraid to return indoors.

The quake also was felt in the nearby Afghan provinces of Farah and Badghis, according to local media reports.

UN agency provides ambulances

The World Health Organization in Afghanistan said it dispatched 12 ambulance cars to Zenda Jan to evacuate casualties to hospitals.

"As deaths & casualties from the earthquake continue to be reported, teams are in hospitals assisting treatment of wounded & assessing additional needs," the UN agency said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. "WHO-supported ambulances are transporting those affected, most of them women and children."

Telephone connections went down in Herat, making it hard to get details from affected areas. Videos on social media showed hundreds of people in the streets outside their homes and offices in Herat city.

Children sleep outside after an earthquake in Afghanistan.

Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban-appointed deputy prime minister for economic affairs, expressed his condolences to the dead and injured in Herat and Badghis.

The Taliban urged local organizations to reach earthquake-hit areas as soon as possible to help take the injured to hospital, provide shelter for the homeless, and deliver food to survivors. They said security agencies should use all their resources and facilities to rescue people trapped under debris.

Health-care system in peril

More than 200 dead had been brought to various hospitals, a Herat health department official who identified himself as Dr Danish told Reuters, adding most of them were women and children.

Bodies had been "taken to several places —military bases, hospitals," Danish said.

Beds were set up outside the main hospital in Herat to receive a flood of victims, photos on social media showed.

Food, drinking water, medicine, clothes and tents were urgently needed for rescue and relief, Suhail Shaheen, the head of the Taliban's political office in Qatar, said in a message to journalists.

Afghanistan's health-care system, reliant almost entirely on foreign aid, has faced crippling cuts in the two years since the Taliban took over and most other forms of international assistance, which formed the backbone of the economy, were halted.

Diplomats and aid officials say concerns over Taliban restrictions on women and competing global humanitarian crises are causing donors to pull back on financial support. The Islamist government has ordered most Afghan female aid staff not to work, although with exemptions in health and education.

In August, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was likely to end the financial operation of 25 Afghan hospitals because of funding constraints. It was not immediately clear if the Herat hospital was on that list.

With files from Reuters and The Canadian Press

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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