Afghanistan earthquakes: "I can still hear the tremors in my head"

Stories from survivors in Herat

Farhah Din Malik

Afghanistan 2023 © Paul Odongo/MSF

Areas of Herat Province in western Afghanistan were devastated by three powerful 6.3 magnitude earthquakes and many aftershocks between October 7 and 15. Entire towns were destroyed. Authorities estimate that around 2,000 people died in the earthquakes, but the true death toll remains unclear.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) manages the pediatric department of Herat Regional Hospital, which received more than 833 casualties following the earthquakes. MSF donated mass casualty kits and set up 10 tents outside the hospital to treat the wounded.

There is a huge need for mental health support. Many people have lost family members, their homes and possessions were destroyed, and some are the only survivors of their villages. MSF teams have visited some of the worst-affected areas outside Herat city to assess the medical needs. Here are the stories survivors shared:

Emergency triage, Herat Regional Hospital

Rabieh Jamali, 37, from Seya Hab village in Zinda Jan District

Rabieh Jamali’s village was destroyed in the earthquake on October 7. Rabieh suffered injuries to her leg, head, and back, and has been staying in one of the tents MSF set up to support Herat Regional Hospital, along with her father and several other surviving members of her family. Despite being discharged, they have chosen to stay, not knowing where else to go.

"When the first earthquake hit, we had just finished our lunch, and my husband and daughter had stepped outside. That’s when we heard a loud noise, felt some shaking, and everything went black. I woke up to people removing bricks from my body. There were six people in the room at the time. My three-year-old daughter was killed.

“What do we go back to?”

"I was taken by helicopter from the village to a military hospital before being brought here [to Herat Regional Hospital]. My seven-year-old son, Amaleh, is not in a good condition. I am worried about him. He was admitted to one of the wards and my father goes to see him. He lost most of his teeth, his nose was broken, and his head was severely injured.

"The hospital has told us to go home, but what do we go back to? We don’t have anything now. All the houses in our village were destroyed. People . . . gave us cups, flasks, and blankets. But we need a tent or a home."

A young child with a bandage on his head sit on the floor of MSF's medical tent next to his grandfather

Shamaeil, 25, from Naieb Rafi village in Zinda Jan District

Shamaeil is receiving care at Herat Regional Hospital. She is with her husband, Hassan, their two-year-old daughter, and Hassan’s mother. Hassan was at work on October 7 when the earthquake struck. It destroyed their house. Shamaeil was injured when one of the walls of their house collapsed on her, breaking her leg and hurting her back. She was pregnant with her second child and nearly due to give birth. Her baby did not survive. Now Shamaeil and Hassan have no home to go back to and are worried about keeping warm during the impending winter.  

The whole village had been leveled

My daughter was covered in rubble but thankfully she wasn’t hurt. We were both trapped. When we were pulled from under the debris, I was bleeding and lost consciousness. I was told we were brought here by helicopter.

A woman injured in the earthquake pictured in a medical tent in Herat

When I regained consciousness, I found myself in the maternity ward. I tried to remember what had happened. I initially thought only my house had been damaged, but then my mother and some relatives told me that the whole village had been leveled. I also learned that I had lost my baby.

Many people died in the earthquake: my uncle, nephew, neighbors, and so many relatives that I can’t even begin to count. We also lost our livestock.

Third earthquake struck Herat on 15 October

Farhah Din Malik and Madina*

Farhah Din was working in Iran when he heard about the earthquake from his brother. He immediately returned to Afghanistan to be with his family. The journey took him two days. He is now staying in the MSF tent looking after his 12-year-old sister, his wife, Madina, his brother’s wife, and another relative.

"On Saturday, October 7, I had just woken up after my night shift and was washing before prayer when I received a phone call from my brother," said Farhah Din. "He was crying, telling me to come home as we had lost many members of our family: my mother, my nine-month-old son, my sister, and my three-year-old niece. He told me that the whole village had collapsed. 'Please run,' he said. I started crying.

"I started looking for a taxi to take me to Tehran where I could take a bus to Afghanistan. It took two days. I arrived at around 11 p.m. on October 9, and went straight to the village. I found nothing but rubble. I stayed there for the night and came to the hospital the following morning.

"I found my brother, we hugged each other and cried"

“Our biggest need right now is a home”

"We were in the house when the earthquake struck," said Madina*. "The roof fell and we were buried. My nine-month-old baby was in the bedroom in his cradle, and he died under the rubble. I have stitches in my head and pain in my back.

"Today, the doctors said they want to discharge me, but where to? Our biggest need right now is a home. The winter is extremely cold in our village and a tent will not help."

*Name has been changed. 

Sangin, 26, from Naieb Rafi village in Zinda Jan District 

Sangin has a broken arm and sprained shoulder. He had recently become engaged and was saving up for the wedding. Sadly, four of his five sisters died in the earthquake.


"It was around 11.30 a.m. when something that felt like a strong wind came and the ground shook, collapsing the whole village. Only a few people survived—I am still wondering whether I am lucky to be among them.

"I was working outside that morning and had gone home to have lunch with my mother and four sisters. My other sister was in Herat city at the time. Just as I was about to leave, the earthquake struck. I wanted to run outside but was trapped when a wall fell on me. As my sisters were trying to run, the roof fell on them.

"I shouted and people came and pulled me out. I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I was at the hospital.

“I still hear the tremors in my head”

"My sisters were all dead by the time they were pulled out from under the debris. My mother is in one of the wards [here at Herat Regional Hospital].

"I also lost two uncles and an aunt. My friends, family, and neighbors—all of them have lost people. Everyone you talk to has lost many family members.

"I feel alone. I have lost almost all my closest family. I don’t know what to do. I need money to survive. I need to [get married] and build a home. I feel depressed.

"I haven’t been told when I will be discharged, but even if I am discharged, I don’t have a home to go to.

"The devastation that the earthquake caused is all I see. I can’t get it off my mind no matter how hard I try. I still hear the tremors in my head."