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Death toll continues to rise after a powerful quake struck eastern Afghanistan


Today we have descriptions of the remote regions struck by an earthquake in Afghanistan.


Afghan officials believe this week's earthquake killed at least a thousand people. The damage is in rural areas that would be hard to reach, even under normal conditions.

INSKEEP: NPR's Diaa Hadid is just across the border in Islamabad, Pakistan. Hi there, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi there, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing?

HADID: Well, we're really hearing how devastating this earthquake has been. We're now seeing videos that are showing whole villages that have collapsed under the rubble. There's men digging neat lines of mass graves. Injured people have been helicoptered to hospitals. And we spoke to one Taliban official who visited the area yesterday. His name is Khaled Zadran. He's the Kabul police spokesperson, and he told NPR's producer in Kabul, Fazelminallah Qazizai, that survivors were shellshocked.

KHALED ZADRAN: (Through interpreter) I saw lots of children, and they were just sitting in front of their demolished, collapsed houses. But they were sitting there quietly, silently. They were not crying. But when we asked them, they will reply that 15 of my family members were killed, 12 of my family were killed.

INSKEEP: That is one of the most powerful images that I've heard yet, seen in my mind's eye yet, of what it's like to be there. So who's able to help?

HADID: Well, right now, aid groups have rushed in, but there's so much destruction and so many big challenges in their way. To get a sense of what they're facing, I spoke to Mohammad Ismail Hamid. He's the deputy country director for the Danish Refugee Council in Afghanistan. And he said they've deployed teams to assess the two hardest-hit areas. One of them is called the Barmal District. And have a listen to what he says.

MOHAMMAD ISMAIL HAMID: So it's a really disaster situation. Nearly almost all houses have been destroyed as a result of this earthquake in Barmal District.

HADID: Nearly all the homes have been destroyed in that one district. So he says in coordination with other groups, they're distributing tents, clean water, food, blankets, cash, all this to survivors. But Steve, survivors here is the key word. There's so many people still buried under the rubble, and it might take days to get them out because this area is so remote. It's rugged mountains that straddle the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It's mostly dirt roads to get there, and they've turned to mud because if this earthquake wasn't bad enough, there's been heavy rains that have been pounding the area. And they need to ship in heavy technical equipment and the people who are experts in using it, these search and rescue teams. So he tells me the international community really has to step up to help Afghans rebuild, and that could take years.

INSKEEP: Of course, the primary responsibility for that region goes to the government, which is to say the Taliban, which took over the country just under one year ago. On its own terms in a military takeover, they seized power. How effective have they been at responding?

HADID: So the Taliban has rushed in. Their disaster management authority is leading the effort. Other senior ministries are lending a hand. High-level ministers have gone to the area to assuage residents that they won't be forgotten. They're uploading images and videos of what they're doing on social media. And one Afghanistan expert I spoke to says this is all the Taliban signaling to Afghans that they care and that they can govern competently. As you said, they seized power in a military sweep. They've stripped away women's rights. And so no country in the world has recognized them. And so what they're trying to tell Afghans is the international community has abandoned you, but we haven't.

INSKEEP: NPR's Diaa Hadid, thanks so much.

HADID: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.