At least 320 dead after 6.3-magnitude earthquake hits west Afghanistan

Guardian staff and agencies

A magnitude 6.3 earthquake has killed at least 320 people in western Afghanistan, the UN has said.

The epicentre was 24.8 miles (40km) north-west of the region’s largest city, Herat, and was followed by an aftershock with a 5.5 magnitude, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported.

Crowds of residents fled buildings in the city at about 11am as the quakes began, lasting for over an hour. There have been reports of landslides and people being trapped under buildings

“We were in our offices and suddenly the building started shaking,” 45-year-old Herat resident Bashir Ahmad told Agence-France Presse. “Wall plasters started to fall down and the walls got cracks, some walls and parts of the building collapsed.”

“I am not able to contact my family, network connections are disconnected. I am too worried and scared, it was horrifying,” he said.

Women and children stood out in the wide streets, away from tall buildings, in the moments after the first quake.

“Significant casualties are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread,” a preliminary USGS report said. “Past events with this alert level have required a regional or national level response.”

A map posted on the USGS website indicates seven earthquakes in the region, including a magnitude 5.9 earthquake 21.7 miles north-north-west of Herat, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake 20.5 miles north-north-east of Zindah Jan and another 6.3 magnitude earthquake 18 miles north-north-east of Zindah Jan, which is about 26 miles west of Herat city.

“All people are out of their homes,” Samadi said. “Houses, offices and shops are all empty and there are fears of more earthquakes.

“Me and my family were inside our home, I felt the quake.”

There was no immediate comment from Taliban government officials on possible casualties or damage.

Telephone connections were down, causing difficulties in obtaining precise details from the impacted areas. Social media videos showed hundreds of people in the streets outside their homes and offices in Herat city.

Heart province borders Iran. The quake was felt in the nearby provinces of Farah and Badghis, according to local media reports.

In June 2022, a powerful earthquake struck a rugged, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan, flattening stone and mud-brick homes. The quake was Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades, killing at least 1,000 people and injuring about 1,500.

The country is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

Afghanistan is already in the grip of a grinding humanitarian crisis, with the widespread withdrawal of foreign aid since the Taliban returned to power in 2021.

At least 320 dead after 6.3-magnitude earthquake hits west Afghanistan