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Rescuers scramble to reach Afghan earthquake survivors as foreign aid arrives – South Asia News News – Report by AFR

Desperate rescuers battled the clock and heavy rain on Thursday to reach cut-off areas in eastern Afghanistan after a powerful earthquake killed at least 1,000 people and left thousands more homeless.

Wednesday’s 5.9-magnitude quake hit the rugged east hardest, destroying cellphone towers and power lines and triggering rock and mudslides that blocked mountain roads and further hampered rescue efforts.

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

“When I came out of my house, it was quiet because everyone was buried under their houses. There is nothing left here,” said 21-year-old Zaitullah Ghurziwal.

Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in more than two decades poses a huge logistical challenge for the new Taliban government, which has isolated itself from much of the world by imposing uncompromising rule.

“It’s very difficult to get information from the ground because the networks are bad,” Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, information chief for hard-hit Paktika province, told AFP on Thursday.

“The area was hit by flooding last night due to heavy rains… It is also difficult to reach the affected sites.”

Authorities say the tremors injured at least 3,000 people.

The aid-dependent country was stripped of most of its foreign aid following the Taliban takeover last August, and even before the earthquake, the United Nations was warning of a humanitarian crisis threatening the entire population.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the global organization was “fully mobilized” to help.

According to his office, the refugee agency UNHCR has sent tents, blankets and plastic sheeting; the World Food Program has delivered food supplies to about 14,000 people in Paktika province; and the World Health Organization has provided 10 tons of medical supplies, enough for 5,400 surgeries.

– ‘Nothing to eat’ –

Survivors in the Bermal district, a cluster of remote mountain villages, said they were struggling to find food, shelter and equipment to dig graves.

“We didn’t even have a shovel to dig with… so we used a tractor. We buried 60 people yesterday and 30 more have yet to be buried,” Ghurziwal said.

“There are no blankets, tents, there is no shelter. Our entire water supply system is destroyed. Everything is devastated, houses are destroyed. There is literally nothing to eat.”

Afghan government officials said on Thursday that aid flights from Qatar and Iran had landed, while Pakistan sent trucks across the border with tents, medical supplies and food.

“IEA teams are on the ground… we are using helicopters and roads to bring aid to affected areas,” government spokesman Bilal Karimi told AFP.

An AFP correspondent reported on a military helicopter flying over villages devastated by the Bermal earthquake.

The earthquake struck areas already suffering the effects of heavy rains, causing rockfalls and mudslides that destroyed villages perched precariously on mountainsides.

Officials say nearly 10,000 homes have been destroyed, an alarming number in an area where the average household size is more than 20 people.

“Seven in one room, five in the other room, four in another and three in another were killed in my family,” Bibi Hawa told AFP from a hospital bed in the capital, Paktika.

“I can’t speak anymore, my heart is getting weak.”

More than 118,000 children were affected by the disaster, according to Save the Children.

“Many children are now most likely without clean drinking water, food and a safe place to sleep,” the international charity said.

– Limited capacity –

Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s emergency response teams were stretched to deal with the natural disasters that frequently plague the country.

However, with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters remaining since their return to power, any immediate response to the recent disaster is further limited.

“We hope that the international community and aid organizations will also help our people in this dire situation,” tweeted Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official.

The United States, whose troops helped overthrow the original Taliban regime and stayed in Afghanistan for two decades until Washington pulled them out last year, said it was “deeply saddened” by the earthquake and was looking at ways to help, too through possible talks with Taliban rulers.

Afghanistan is frequently struck by earthquakes, particularly in the Hindu Kush mountains near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

Dozens of people died in January when two earthquakes struck the western province of Badghis.

Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in recent memory killed 5,000 people in 1998 in the northeastern provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.

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