Aftershocks and Devastation: The 2023 Herat Earthquakes

A series of powerful earthquakes and subsequent aftershocks have wreaked havoc in the Herat Province of western Afghanistan this October, leaving a trail of devastation and a rising death toll.

On October 7, two significant earthquakes, measuring a magnitude of 6.3, struck near Herat at 11:11 AFT and 11:42 AFT. A flurry of aftershocks followed these. A few days later, on October 11, another 6.3 magnitude earthquake jolted the same region.

The aftermath is grim. Current reports indicate that at least 2,795 individuals have lost their lives, with approximately 2,000 more injured. The United Nations has also reported that 485 people remain missing. Most of these casualties occurred during the initial two earthquakes on October 7. The quake on October 11 alone resulted in one death and 80 injuries.
The earthquake epicenters were between the Siakhubulak Fault in the north and the Herat Fault in the south. Satellite data from Sentinel-1A revealed significant ground deformation, suggesting the involvement of a blind thrust fault.
Afghanistan’s tectonic activity is attributed to its position at the collision zone of the Arabian Plate, the Indian Plate, and the Eurasian Plate. The region has a history of seismic activity, with several significant earthquakes recorded in the past.

The immediate impact on infrastructure and homes has been catastrophic. Over 2,000 houses across 20 villages have been destroyed. Mud houses, typical in the region, were particularly affected. In Zinda Jan District alone, twelve villages were obliterated. Nayeb Rafi was razed entirely, and nearly 80% of its inhabitants perished. In Siah Aab, another town in the Zinda Jan District, 300 residents lost their lives. Reports suggest that families, some with up to 30 members, were trapped beneath the rubble.

Historical structures were not spared either. Medieval-era minarets in Herat sustained significant damage, with plaster falling from walls and parts of buildings collapsing. The neighboring provinces of Badghis and Farah also reported collapsed houses and injuries.

The international community has responded quickly, with rescue and relief operations underway. However, the scale of the disaster means that the road to recovery will be long and arduous.