MIR GADKHEL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Grieving villagers in eastern Afghanistan Friday dug through mounds of earth that had once been their homes to recover the bodies of dozens of people feared killed by a 5.5 magnitude earthquake.
Crowds had gathered for the first funerals by midday, even as some families continued to search by hand through houses that had been reduced to jumbles of mud and cracked, broken wooden beams.
In a village turned into wasteland, dazed parents wept over the bodies of their children, and at the remains of one house an unsteady toddler struggled to lift pieces of rubble.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the 5.5 magnitude quake hit the area just before 2 a.m. Friday (2130 GMT on Thursday), followed by a 5.1 magnitude aftershock two hours later that tumbled some buildings that survived the first shock.
“I was sleeping when the earthquake happened. We went out for a bit and went back into the house. Then there was another tremor which was very strong. The roof came down and killed my brother and his two children,” said Amrullah, a boy fighting back tears.
Residents of the village of Mir Gadkhel said they thought dozens had been killed there. A Reuters cameraman also counted about 10 dead bodies in another nearby village, Sar Kot.
“Three of my family members were killed and seven are injured. I think about 40 people have died. Hundreds of houses have been destroyed,” Gul Mohammad said in Mir Gadkhel, about 45 km (30 miles) west of the Afghan city of Jalalabad.
Mohammad Tahir Zahir, deputy head of the provincial council of Nangarhar province, said 40 people had died. Abdul Mateen Edraak, head of Afghanistan’s National Disaster and Preparedness Center, said 19 people were confirmed dead but the toll would rise as more bodies were recovered from the rubble.
President Hamid Karzai’s office said at least 20 people had died, and Karzai had expressed his deep condolences.
There were so many dead in one village that white sheets were brought out as substitute funeral awnings, traditionally black and decorated with verses from the Koran.
Villagers said that they had received no help from government officials, who came to survey the damage but then left them hunting through the collapsed houses with their hands.
“A delegation came here, visited and saw dead bodies and then went back. They haven’t helped the wounded,” said Rahim Gul, standing in front of the crumpled remains of his home.
“So many women died, so many children died...there are still people under the destroyed houses over there,” he said.
The villages are located between Jalalabad and the capital Kabul, in Nangarhar, a province that sees sporadic attacks by Taliban insurgents. But there were no immediate reports on Friday of security incidents near the quake zone.
Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Writing by Peter Graff; editing by Valerie Lee