- By Rachel Russell
- BBC News
Hundreds of people are feared dead after a powerful earthquake hit western Afghanistan near the border with Iran.
The death toll is expected to rise as reports come in from the countryside, with a Taliban government department saying it could be as high as 2,000.
A 6.3-magnitude earthquake on Saturday destroyed at least 12 villages near the city of Herat.
There were powerful aftershocks. Survivors described their terror as buildings collapsed around them.
Rescue teams spent the night trying to find people trapped under the rubble.
Thousands of people were injured. In a country with inadequate medical facilities, hospitals are struggling to treat the injured. The UN and other organizations have begun to urgently deliver supplies.
The quake struck about 40 km (25 miles) northwest of Herat at around 11:00 local time (06:30 GMT) on Saturday.
The worst affected communities are remote and have mud structures. “All the houses collapsed in the first tremor,” Herat resident Bashir Ahmad, whose family lives in a village, told AFP news agency.
“Those inside the houses were buried,” he added. “There are families we haven’t heard from.”
Footage from Herat Central Hospital showed casualties linked to intravenous drips being treated outside the main building – a sign of sudden and high demand for emergency care.
Other images show scenes of devastation in Herat’s Injil district where debris blocked roads and hampered rescue efforts.
“The situation is terrible, I have never experienced anything like that,” student Idris Arsala told AFP. He evacuated his classroom to safety after the earthquake struck.
Herat is located 120 km (75 mi) east of the Iranian border and is considered the cultural capital of Afghanistan. An estimated 1.9 million people live in the province.
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes – particularly in the Hindu Kush mountain range where it lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
In June last year, a 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck Paktika province, killing more than 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.