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Survivors dig by hand after Afghanistan quake killing 1,000

GAYAN, AFGHANISTAN (AP) – Survivors dug by hand yesterday through villages in eastern Afghanistan reduced to rubble by a powerful earthquake that killed at least 1,000 people, as the Taleban and the international community that fled their takeover struggled to aid the disaster’s victims.

In Paktika province’s hard-hit Gayan district, villagers stood atop the mud bricks that once was a home there. Others carefully walked through dirt alleyways, gripping onto damaged walls with exposed timber beams to make their way.

The quake was Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades, and officials said the toll could rise.

An estimated 1,500 others were reported injured, the state-run news agency said.

The disaster inflicted by the 6 magnitude quake heaps more misery on a country where millions face increasing hunger and poverty and the health system has been crumbling since the Taleban retook power nearly 10 months ago amid the US and NATO withdrawal. The takeover led to a cutoff of vital international financing, and most of the world has shunned the Taleban government.

How – and whether the Taleban allow – the world to offer aid remains in question as rescuers without heavy equipment dug through rubble with their bare hands.

“We ask from the Islamic Emirate and the whole country to come forward and help us,” said a survivor who gave his name as Hakimullah. “We are with nothing and have nothing, not even a tent to live in.”

A convoy of trucks carrying relief good including tents, blankets and emergency medicines for Afghanistan’s earthquake hit areas, prepare to leave from a warehouse in Islamabad, Pakistan. PHOTO: AP

The full extent of the destruction among the villages tucked in the mountains was slow in coming to light. The roads, which are rutted and difficult to travel in the best of circumstances, may have been badly damaged, and landslides from recent rains made access even more difficult. At least 11 people have died in recent flooding as well.

While modern buildings withstand magnitude 6 earthquakes elsewhere, Afghanistan’s mud-and-brick homes and landslide-prone mountains make such temblors even more dangerous.

Rescuers rushed in by helicopter, but the relief effort could be hindered by the exodus of many international aid agencies from Afghanistan after the Taleban takeover last August.

Moreover, most governments are wary of dealing directly with the Taleban.

In a sign of the muddled workings between the Taleban and the rest of the world, the Taleban had not formally requested that the United Nations (UN) mobilise international search-and-rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighbouring countries to supplement the few dozen ambulances and several helicopters sent in by Afghan authorities, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN deputy special representative to Afghanistan.

Still, officials from multiple UN agencies said the Taleban were giving them full access to the area.

Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter that eight trucks of food and other necessities from Pakistan arrived in Paktika. He also said yesterday that two planes of humanitarian aid from Iran and another from Qatar had arrived in the country.

Obtaining more direct international help may be more difficult: Many countries, including the US, funnel humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through the UN and other such organizations to avoid putting money in the Taleban’s hands.

In a news bulletin yesterday, Afghanistan state television made a point to acknowledge that US President Joe Biden – their one-time enemy – offered condolences over the earthquake and had promised aid. Biden on Wednesday ordered “USAID and other federal government partners to assess US response options to help those most affected,” a White House statement said.