KABUL/UNITED NATIONS/ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR: An earthquake of magnitude 5.9 has killed 1,000 people in Afghanistan early on Wednesday, officials said, adding that at least 610 people were injured and the toll is likely to rise as information trickles in from remote mountain villages.
The quake struck about 44 kms from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, the US Geological Survey (USGC) said. "Strong and long jolts," a resident of the Afghan capital, Kabul, posted on the website of the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC). "It was strong," said a resident of Peshawar, reported Geo News.
Photographs on Afghan media showed houses reduced to rubble, with bodies swathed in blankets lying on the ground. "The number is increasing. People are digging grave after grave," Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in Paktika, said in a message to journalists.
Helicopters were deployed in the rescue effort to reach the injured and fly in medical supplies and food, said an interior ministry official, Salahuddin Ayubi. "The death toll is likely to rise as some of the villages are in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to collect details."
Earlier, according to British wire service reports, most of the confirmed deaths were in the eastern province of Paktika, where 255 people were killed and more than 200 injured, Ayubi added. In the province of Khost, 25 were dead and 90 had been taken to hospital.
Haibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the ruling Taliban, offered his condolences in a statement. Mounting a rescue operation could prove a major test for the Taliban, who took over the country in August and have been cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions.
Shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the EMSC said on Twitter, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in Pakistan. The EMSC put the earthquake's magnitude at 5.9.
Adding to the challenge for Afghan authorities is recent flooding in many regions, which the disaster agency said had killed 11, injured 50 and blocked stretches of highway. The disaster comes as Afghanistan grapples with a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over, as US-led international forces withdrew following two decades of war.
The UN's office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said Afghanistan had asked humanitarian agencies to help with rescue efforts, and teams were being dispatched to the quake-hit area.
A spokesman of Afghanistan's foreign ministry said it would welcome international help. Neighbouring Pakistan said it was working to extend assistance. Tremors were felt in some parts of Pakistan like Islamabad, Multan, Bhakkar, Phalia, Peshawar, Malakand, Swat, Mianwali, Pakpattan, and Buner, among other places.
Meanwhile, a UN envoy said Wednesday an estimated 2,000 homes have been destroyed by the deadly earthquake in Afghanistan, and a lack of machinery is hampering a rush to find survivors.
"We believe that nearly 2,000 homes are destroyed," the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov told reporters. Briefing journalists at the UN's headquarters in New York via video-link from Kabul, Alakbarov said the number of people displaced would be much higher. "The average size of an Afghan family is at least seven, eight people," he added, noting that sometimes several families live in one house.
"As the UN, our teams do not have specific equipment to take people from under the rubble. This has to rely mostly on the efforts of the de facto authorities, which also have certain limitations in that respect," he said.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis offered prayers Wednesday for the victims of a deadly earthquake in Afghanistan. "I express my closeness with the injured and those who were affected by the earthquake," the 85-year-old pontiff said at the end of his weekly audience at the Vatican.
President Alvi, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the foreign ministry of Pakistan and DG ISPR have expressed condolences over the lives lost in the earthquake. President Dr Arif Alvi on Wednesday expressed grief and sorrow over the loss of lives in an earthquake in Afghanistan.
The prime minister said that "relevant authorities are working to support Afghanistan in this time of need. Meanwhile, the foreign ministry said in a statement that the government and people of Pakistan extend their "deepest condolences and sympathies over the loss of precious lives and damage to property caused by the tragic earthquake in Paktika province of Afghanistan."
DG ISPR also took to Twitter and expressed their "deepest condolences over tragic loss of precious lives & damage to infrastructure." "AFs of Pakistan are ready to provide all possible humanitarian assistance to people of Afghanistan," read the post.
Meanwhile, two persons died and four houses were partially damaged in rain and earthquake related incidents during the last 24 hours in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). According to Provincial Disasters Management Authority (PDMA) report, one person died due to earthquake in Lakki Marwat and another expired owing to rains in Nowshera district while four houses were partially damaged.
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