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Rescue efforts wind down in quake-hit Afghanistan as villages bury dead

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Hemmed in by mountains, Afghanistan has a history of strong earthquakes, many in the rugged Hindu Kush region bordering Pakistan.

Saturday’s earthquakes – one with a 6.3 magnitude – were one of the deadliest in the world this year, after the quakes in Turkey in Syria which killed around 50,000 people.

The quakes flattened buildings in some 20 villages in the northwest, including Siah Aab village in ​​Zinda Jan district which lost at least 300 residents.

In the village, funeral prayers were held for the dead before they were buried, wrapped in blankets, in freshly dug graves.

“I have lost my four daughters-in-law, my four sons and my grandchildren,” villager Taj Mohammad, 60, said. He said 11 of his family members had been killed in the disaster.

The UN’s humanitarian office has announced US$5 million worth of assistance for the quake response, but immediate material support has come from just a few countries.

Afghanistan’s healthcare system, largely reliant on foreign aid, has faced crippling cuts in the two years since the Taliban took over and much international assistance was halted.

In addition to medical and food aid, survivors are in dire need of shelter as temperatures drop, the head of the World Health Organization’s emergency response said.

Abdul Sattar, a grave digger in Siah Aab, said the living needed as much support as they can get.

“Their first hope is God, followed by help from other countries,” he said, adding that he and others had already dug more than 500 graves.

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