A powerful earthquake struck a rural, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border early Wednesday, killing at least 1000 people and injuring more than 600 others, authorities said, adding that the toll is expected to grow as information trickles in from remote mountain villages.
Information remained scarce on the magnitude 6.1 temblor that damaged buildings in Khost and Paktika provinces. Rescue efforts are likely to be complicated since many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover of the country last year and the chaotic withdrawal of the U.S. military from the longest war in its history.
Neighboring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said the quake's epicenter was in Afghanistan's Paktika province, just near the border and some 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of the city of Khost. Such temblors can cause severe damage, particularly in an area like this one where homes and other buildings are poorly constructed and landslides are common.
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Footage from Paktika province showed people being carried into helicopters to be airlifted from the area. Others were treated on the ground. One resident could be seen receiving IV fluids while sitting in a plastic chair outside the rubble of his home and still more were sprawled on gurneys. Other images showed residents picking through clay bricks and other rubble from destroyed stone houses.
Afghan emergency official Sharafuddin Muslim gave the death toll in a news conference Wednesday. Earlier, the director-general of state-run Bakhtar news agency, Abdul Wahid Rayan, wrote on Twitter that 90 houses have been destroyed in Paktika and dozens of people are believed trapped under the rubble.
Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, gave no specific death toll but wrote on Twitter that hundreds of people were killed and injured in the earthquake, which shook four districts in Paktika.
“We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further catastrophe,” he wrote.
In just one district of the neighboring Khost province, the earthquake killed at least 25 people and injured over 95 others, local officials said.
In Kabul, Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund convened an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate the relief effort for victims in Paktika and Khost.
The “response is on its way,” the UN resident coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, wrote on Twitter.
Some remote areas of Pakistan saw reports of damage to homes near the Afghan border, but it wasn't immediately clear if that was due to rain or the earthquake, said Taimoor Khan, a disaster management spokesperson in the area.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif in a statement offered his condolences over the earthquake, saying his nation will provide help to the Afghan people.
The European seismological agency, EMSC, said the earthquake’s tremors were felt over 500 kilometers (310 miles) by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Mountainous Afghanistan and the larger region of South Asia along the Hindu Kush mountains has long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes.
In 2015, a major earthquake that struck the country’s northeast killed over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighboring northern Pakistan. A 6.1-magnitude earthquake in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, another earthquake of the same strength and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people.