Earthquake, Sanjaib Village, Injil District, Herat Province, Afghanistan

Herat earthquake

Since Saturday, 7 October, Herat Province in western Afghanistan has been hit by three powerful earthquakes as well as innumerable aftershocks of varying strengths.

At the Herat Regional Hospital, where MSF runs regular activities in the paediatric department, MSF donated mass casualty kits and erected a total of 10 tents in the hospital compound to accommodate the wounded and their caretakers. On the first days, approximately 540 wounded were treated at the hospital, followed by 126 after the earthquake on Wednesday 11 October and 167 after the earthquake on Sunday, 15 October. The number of dead has been estimated by the authorities at around 2,000 but figures remain unclear.

Third earthquake struck Herat on 15 October, Afghanistan.
On 15 October 2023, a third earthquake, measuring 6.3 magnitude, struck the city at 8:06 a.m. Over 100 injured individuals have been received at the Herat Regional Hospital, with two reported fatalities.
Paul Odongo/MSF

Most patients have mild to moderate injuries, and mental health support remains a primary need. Many people have lost family members, their homes and possessions and are sometimes among the last survivors from their village. MSF teams have been visiting some of the worst-affected areas outside the city to assess the medical needs, including the district of Zinda Jan.

MSF Emergency triage, Herat region hospital, Afghanistan.
An MSF doctor and other medical staff from the Public Health Ministry attend to a patient at the emergency triage area after the third earthquake on 15 October 2023.
Paul Odongo/MSF

Below are some of the stories from the earthquake survivors:

Rabieh Jamali, 37

Rabieh Jamali’s village of Seya Hab, Zinda Jan District, was destroyed in the earthquake. She is staying in the hospital compound with her father, Gul Mohamed, and other surviving members of her family. Rabieh suffered injuries to her leg, head and back. The family have been at the hospital for five days, and despite being discharged, they have chosen to stay in the tents.

When the first earthquake hit, we had just had our lunch, and my husband and daughter had stepped outside. That’s when we heard a loud noise, felt some shaking, and everything went black. I woke up to people removing bricks from my body and the rest of my family. There were six people in the room at the time; my three-year-old daughter was killed.

I was taken by helicopter from the village to a military hospital, where we spent one night before being brought here [Herat Regional Hospital]. My seven-year-old son, Amaleh, is not in good condition, and I am worried about him. He has been admitted to one of these wards, and my father goes to see him. He lost most of his teeth, his nose was broken, and his head was severely injured.

The hospital has told us to go home, but what do we go back to? We don’t have anything now. All the houses in our village were destroyed. People have been coming to these tents, and they gave us cups, flasks and blankets. But we need a tent or a home.

View of Herat area and MSF operations.

Hasan Mirzaie, 28

Hassan Mirzai and his wife, Shamaeil, 25, come from Naieb Rafi village in Zinda Jan District. They are in the hospital tent with their two-year-old daughter and Hassan’s mother. Hassan was at work when the earthquake struck on 7 October, destroying their house. Shamaeil was injured when the wall of the house collapsed on her, breaking her leg and hurting her back. She was pregnant and was due to deliver soon, but she has since lost the baby.

Portrait of Hassan, Herat earthquake victim in Afghanistan. MSF
Hassan Mirzaie, 28, and his daughter inside one of the MSF tents at the Herat Regional Hospital where victims of the earthquake are receiving treatment.
Paul Odongo/MSF

My daughter was covered in rubble, but thankfully she wasn’t hurt. We were both trapped. When we were pulled from under the debris, I was bleeding and lost consciousness. I was told we were brought here by helicopter.

When I regained consciousness, I found myself in the maternity ward. I tried to remember what had happened. I initially thought only my house had been damaged, but then my mother and some relatives told me that the whole village had been levelled. I also learned then that I had lost my baby.

Many people died in the earthquake: my uncle, nephew, neighbours, and so many relatives that I can’t even begin to count. We also lost our livestock.

When the helicopter came, it took my wife and little girl, and I came later by ambulance. I found that they had been brought to this tent. We haven’t been told when she can leave the hospital, but we don’t have a home to go back to anyway.

At the moment, my wife sleeps in the tent with one of the family and my little girl and I sleep outside.

We need blankets, carpets, a tent and a home. With the coming winter, we will need gas or a stove to heat our home to be safe and warm.

MSF, Herat earthquake victims in tents, Afghanistan.

Farhah Din Malik

Farhah Din was working in Iran when he received news of the earthquake from his brother, and he immediately set off to be with his family. The journey took him two days. He is now in the MSF tent with his 12-year-old sister, his wife Madina, his brother’s wife and another relative.

I just arrived here yesterday [Wednesday, 10 October], and I am taking care of four patients. I have been working in Iran for the last nine months as a guard. On Saturday, 7 October, I had just woken up after my night shift and was washing before prayer when I received a phone call from my brother. He was crying, telling me to come home and that we had lost many members of our family. When I asked who, he started counting: my mother, my nine-month-old daughter, my sister, his three-year-old daughter. He told me that the whole village had collapsed. “Please run,” he said. I started crying.

I started looking for a taxi to take me to Tehran, where I would take a bus to Afghanistan. It took two days to get here. I arrived at around 11 p.m. and went straight to the village. I found nothing but rubble. I stayed there for the night and came to the hospital the following morning.

When I arrived at the hospital, I went to the registration desk and told them the name of my family and was directed here. I found my brother, we hugged each other and cried. Then, I came to see my wife and sister.

We were in the house when the earthquake struck. The roof fell, and we were buried. My nine-month-old baby was in the bedroom in his cradle, and he died under the rubble.

I have stitches in my head and pain in my back. We were brought here by a helicopter. Today, the doctors took my name and said they want to discharge me, but I don’t know where to.

Our biggest need right now is a home. The winter is extremely cold in our village, and a tent will not help.

MSF, Herat earthquake, Afghanistan.
In response to potential additional needs, MSF has established five medical tents within the hospital compound with the capacity to accommodate up to 80 patients.

Sangin, 26

Sangin is from Naieb Rafi village in Zinda Jan District. He has a broken arm and sprained shoulder, and before the earthquake, he had recently become engaged and was saving up for the wedding. His four sisters died in the earthquake.

It was around 11:30 a.m. when something like a strong wind came, and the ground shook, collapsing the whole village. Only a few people survived, and I am still thinking whether I am lucky to have been among them.

I was working outside that morning and had gone home to have lunch with my mother and four sisters. Just as I was about to leave, the earthquake struck. I wanted to run outside but was trapped when the wall fell on me. My sisters heard my voice, and as they were also trying to run, the roof fell on them.

I shouted, and people came and pulled me out. My sisters were all dead by the time they were pulled from under the debris. I lost consciousness, and when I woke up, I was at the hospital with a bandage on my hand and an IV line running into my hand. That’s when I realized what had really happened. I still hear the tremors in my head.

As well as my sisters, I also lost two uncles and an aunt. My friends, family and neighbours all of them have lost people. Everyone you talk to has lost many family members. Only one of my sisters survived because she was in Herat City at the time.

I feel alone. I have lost almost all my closest family. I don’t know what to do. I need money to survive, and I need to marry and build a home. I feel depressed. My mother is in one of the wards, but I don’t know which one. My father was in Iran when the earthquake happened, and I haven’t seen him. I don’t know where he is.

I haven’t been told when I will be discharged, but even if I am discharged, I don’t have a home to go to. A friend told me that they were given tents. But as you can see, I can’t work and need so much support. I need a home and food.

The devastation that the earthquake caused is all I see. I can’t get it off my mind, no matter how hard I try.

Portrait of Sangin, Herat earthquake victim in Afghanistan. MSF
Sangin, 26, from Noebe Fil Village in Zindah Jan District. He is receiving treatment for a broken arm and sprained shoulder. Four of his sisters died in the earthquake.
Paul Odongo/MSF

Abdul Salaam, 46

Abdul Salaam is from Sanjaib village in Injil District. He speaks about what happened after the second earthquake.

The first earthquake on Saturday destroyed everything in neighbouring villages and killed many people, but it spared us. However, this second earthquake destroyed all our homes. Luckily, no one was killed in our village, as we were all sleeping outside when it struck. A few people were injured; for example, my sister’s leg was broken, and she is receiving treatment in Herat city.

We have lost everything and have nothing to live on. We lost our livestock, our belongings, and our home. We are trying to recover whatever we can.

*Names have been changed