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Quake-hit Afghans struggle to protect children from cold

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KABUL: Earthquake survivors in Afghanistan emerged from a third night without shelter on Thursday, as village leaders warned they had nothing to protect children from the freezing conditions while rescuers struggle to reach isolated communities.

Desperate victims appealed for blankets, warm clothes and food after Monday’s 7.5 magnitude quake ripped through the region, killing nearly 115 people while levelling thousands of homes and forcing many to camp out in the open.

Rugged terrain, severed communication lines and an unstable security situation have impeded relief efforts since the disaster, and local officials said they had few supplies to hand after the region was devastated by floods just three months ago.

Aid agencies have warned that shelter and hygiene will be the most pressing needs for survivors in the coming days, with the UN saying children in particular face deadly conditions.

Western charities said the Taliban presence in Afghanistan was hindering relief efforts.

The militants on Wednesday claimed to have overrun the remote district of Darqad in the quake-hit northern province of Takhar, underscoring the fragile security situation facing relief workers.

The insurgents have vowed their fighters would provide “complete help” in affected areas.

Afghan officials said 115 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more injured, with casualties reported from around half a dozen of the country’s 34 provinces, and more than 7,600 homes reported damaged.

Desperate survivors were left marooned on mountaintops in Badakhshan, the remote province where the epicentre of the earthquake was located and where much of the territory is controlled by the Taliban.

In Sawkay district in the badly-hit Afghan province of Kunar, residents said on Wednesday that no officials had yet appeared.

“The government has not asked what happened to us,” said resident Mohammad Akram.

“No government official visited us.” The quake was centred near Jurm in northeast Afghanistan, 250 kilometres from the capital Kabul and at a depth of 213.5 kilometres, the US Geological Survey said.

Aid agencies have stressed the need for greater disaster preparedness in war-torn Afghanistan — but it has been a low priority for the nation as it struggles to end a 14-year war against the Taliban insurgents. Agencies