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Rescue workers hurry to reach hundreds of Afghans buried under quake debris


While the world focused on violence in Israel and Gaza this weekend, a series of earthquakes struck western Afghanistan.


So far, the Taliban government says more than 2,000 people are dead, and rescue efforts are ongoing.

MARTIN: On the line with us now to tell us more is NPR's international correspondent Diaa Hadid. She's based in Mumbai and covers Afghanistan. Diaa, welcome.


MARTIN: So it's been more than two days since the earthquake. What's the latest information you have for us?

HADID: Well, today there was an aftershock, actually, that sent thousands pouring into the streets of Herat. That's the biggest city in the area. But by far the hardest-hit place was from Saturday. It's a remote district called Zendeh Jan, where about a dozen villages were reduced to rubble. Most of the casualties are women and children. A lot of the men were outside farming the land when this happened. And I spoke to UNICEF's field officer for western Afghanistan, Siddig Ibrahim. He says the dead included more than 500 children. He says the death toll is likely to be far higher because people are quickly burying their dead. They aren't formally reporting them. He says so many women and children died because when the first earthquake struck, they rushed into their homes.

SIDDIG IBRAHIM: People thought it was a bomb. Or a missile was coming down. And everybody rushed inside their homes. And unfortunately, the earthquake continued, and the houses started collapsing. And that's why the fatality among the women and children is the highest.

HADID: They thought bombs were falling nearby because that was their reality through two decades of war between Western-backed forces and the Taliban.

MARTIN: It just sounds awful, especially on such an awful weekend already. Are people still looking for survivors?

HADID: Yes. Ibrahim from UNICEF says they are. And he described to me one village that he saw.

IBRAHIM: It's very shocking to see that not a single building is actually standing, just rubble on the ground. And people were actually digging, trying to see if there are anybody trapped to get them out.

HADID: He says people are using shovels. They've got nothing else. But mostly, they're not finding people alive.

MARTIN: So you've been telling us about the worst-affected area. What's it like in other areas?

HADID: Well, the earthquake also shook the western city of Herat. And since then, families have been sleeping in cars, mosques and parks. The thing is the Taliban had actually banned women from entering parks a while ago, and they've loosened that restriction now. Ibrahim from UNICEF says Taliban officials have also plainly asked for help. And that suggests how big this calamity is and how dire.

MARTIN: So is international aid coming in? The Taliban have been reluctant to accept it.

HADID: Yes, some aid is coming in through the United Nations, the World Health Organization and UNICEF And the Taliban is also on the ground. They've dispatched a whole army corps to help out. Ordinary Afghans are donating food, blankets, even their own blood. The real issue is, though, once this emergency phase is over, will money come in to help people rebuild their lives in one of the world's poorest and hungriest countries?

MARTIN: That is NPR's Diaa Hadid. Diaa, thank you so much for your reporting.

HADID: You're welcome, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.