The epicentre was in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, near the border of Pakistan.
A powerful earthquake struck a rural, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border early Wednesday, killing at least 920 people and injuring 600 others, authorities said.
Officials warned the death toll would likely rise.
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.
Neighbouring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said the quake’s epicenter was in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, just near the border and some 50 kilometres southwest of the city of Khost.
Footage from Paktika province near the Pakistan border showed victims 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 neighbouring 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 United Nations resident co-ordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, wrote on Twitter.
Tremors felt in Pakistan and India
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.
Deeply grieved to learn about earthquake in Afghanistan, resulting in loss of innocent lives. People in Pakistan share the grief & sorrow of their Afghan brethren. Relevant authorities working to support Afghanistan in this time of need.
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.
Mountainous Afghanistan and the larger region of South Asia along the Hindu Kush mountains, where the Indian tectonic plate collides with the Eurasian plate to the north, has long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes.
The European seismological agency, EMSC, said the earthquake’s tremors were felt over 500 kilometres by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
In 2015, a major earthquake that struck the country’s northeast killed over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighbouring northern Pakistan. A similar 6.1 earthquake in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people.
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