The number of casualties resulting from a series of earthquakes in western Afghanistan significantly climbed, surpassing 2,000, while rescue teams worked tirelessly to locate survivors amidst the devastated villages.

The death toll from a series of earthquakes in western Afghanistan rose sharply again Sunday to more than 2,000 as rescuers scrabbled for survivors among the ruins of razed villages.

Saturday’s magnitude 6.3 quake, followed by eight strong aftershocks, jolted hard-to-reach areas 30 kilometers (19 miles) northwest of the provincial capital of Herat, toppling rural homes and sending panicked city dwellers surging into the streets.

“2,053 martyrs were killed in 13 villages. 1,240 people are injured. 1,320 houses were completely destroyed,” Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on social media site X, formerly Twitter, citing the disaster management agency.

Afghan residents clear debris from a damaged house after earthquake in Sarbuland village of Zendeh Jan district of Herat province on October 7,2023 (Photo by Mohsen KARIMI / AFP)

As night fell Saturday in Sarboland village of Zinda Jan district, a reporter saw dozens of homes ruined near the epicenter of the quakes, which shook the area for more than five hours.

Men shovelled through piles of crumbled masonry as women and children waited in the open, with gutted homes showing personal belongings flapping in the harsh wind.

The World Health Organization said late Saturday that “the number of casualties is expected to rise as search and rescue operations are ongoing.”

In Herat city, residents fled their homes and schools, while schools, hospitals, and offices were swiftly evacuated. There were few reports of casualties in the metropolitan area, however.

Afghan children rest under a blanket beside damaged houses after the earthquake in Sarbuland village of Zendeh Jan district of Herat province on October 7,2023. (Photo by Mohsen KARIMI / AFP)

Afghanistan is already suffering in the grip of a dire humanitarian crisis, with the widespread withdrawal of foreign aid following the Taliban’s return to power in 2021.

Herat province, home to some 1.9 million people on the border with Iran, has also been hit by a years-long drought, further burdening its already impoverished agricultural communities.

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

More than 1,000 people were killed and tens of thousands left homeless in June last year after a 5.9-magnitude quake, the deadliest in Afghanistan in nearly a quarter of a century, struck the impoverished province of Paktika.

Khalil Wakim, with AFP