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Afghanistan is reeling after 2 earthquakes in a week


Afghans are grieving as they dig through the rubble caused by Wednesday's earthquake in the country's eastern region. More than 1,100 people died, and at least 1,500 are injured. The remoteness of the location, combined with a delayed response from the Taliban who have ruled the country since August, have complicated rescue efforts. Ali Latifi is a Kabul-based journalist and has been covering the rescue and recovery efforts on the ground. He joins us now from Kabul. Good morning.

ALI LATIFI, BYLINE: Good morning.

NADWORNY: We've seen gut-wrenching reports of people having to dig for their family members by hand. You were just in the affected provinces. What did you see? What have people been telling you?

LATIFI: The biggest issue in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes was torrential rain. There was hail. There was fog and cloudy weather. So that meant helicopter flights were canceled. And at that point, the helicopter flights were really the only way to deliver aid and to take the injured in and out because these are very remote areas - mountainous, they're in the hills, it's unpaved roads full of, like, dirt and rocks. And so if it rains, it's mud, there are landslides, things like that. So that's what really made it worse was that in those most crucial initial hours, it was very difficult to get help to the people that needed it.

NADWORNY: It's been a few days since the quake struck. I'm wondering, are residents still finding survivors at this point?

LATIFI: They're still digging through the rubble because there were so many people. And you have to remember, these are mud houses in poor areas with big families - you know, seven people, 10 people, 15 people. But for the most part, the rescue effort ended about two days ago. And now the real focus is on the aid effort because, you know, you're talking about people that lost their homes.


LATIFI: So that means, you know, their clothing, their cooking supplies, whatever they had for a livelihood, whether that be livestock or agriculture or anything. It's all affected. So now what everyone is really trying to do is figure out, what is it that these people need? You know, what is the best way to provide for them going forward until they can rebuild their homes?

NADWORNY: And the Taliban has been asking for help in this effort. What kind of international aid have you seen coming in?

LATIFI: So we were just in the Khost Airport yesterday. Khost was one of the provinces where the earthquake was particularly strong. And so we saw planes bringing supplies in from Iran, from Pakistan, from Qatar. We saw planes coming from the Emirates. And then also what's really interesting is that there's a real effort by average people in Afghanistan. Like, for instance, a few days ago, a team of doctors - a cardiologist and, like, dentists and, like, ear, nose and throat specialists and internists and midwives - they went to the regional hospital in Paktia province and asked them, what kind of medical help do you guys need so that we know that we can be of service?

And then other people - just groups of young people coming and going, you know, from different provinces. The owner of one of the biggest malls in Kabul - they're putting in the time and the effort and they're spending their money. And then you have Afghans abroad in Europe and the U.S. who are starting, like, GoFundMe campaigns. The biggest athlete, cricket superstar Rashid Khan - he started an online donation drive. And so that's what's really amazing about it is, yes, the international effort. But the actual people are also traveling to these districts and trying to see what they can do.

NADWORNY: That's journalist Ali Latifi. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us today.

LATIFI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICK DRAKE'S "SUNDAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.