At least 1,000 killed in Afghan quake as rescuers scramble for survivors

Damaged houses are pictured following an earthquake in Gayan district, Paktika province on June 22, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
SHARAN, Afghanistan — A powerful earthquake struck a remote border region of Afghanistan overnight killing at least 1,000 people and injuring hundreds more, officials said Wednesday, with the toll expected to rise as desperate rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings.اضافة اعلان

The 5.9-magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged east, where people already lead hardscrabble lives in a country in the grip of a humanitarian disaster made worse by the Taliban takeover in August.

An Afghan quake victim rests in bed at a hospital following an earthquake in Gayan district.  

“People are digging grave after grave,” said Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in hard-hit Paktika, adding that at least 1,000 people had died in that province alone.

He said at least 1,500 people were injured, some critically.

“People are still trapped under the rubble,” he told journalists.

The death toll climbed steadily all day as news of casualties filtered in from hard-to-reach areas in the mountains, and the country’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, warned it would likely rise further.

The earthquake struck areas that were already suffering the effects of heavy rain, causing rockfalls and mudslides that hampered rescue efforts.

“It was a horrible situation,” said Arup Khan, 22, recovering at a hospital in the Paktika provincial capital of Sharan.

“There were cries everywhere. The children and my family were under the mud.”

He told AFP that rescuers pulled him out of the wreckage of a guesthouse, but two relatives were killed at his nearby home.

Photographs and video clips posted on social media showed scores of badly damaged houses in remote rural areas.

Footage released by the Taliban showed local residents digging a long slit trench to bury the dead, who by Islamic tradition should be laid to rest facing Mecca.

Offers of help
Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s emergency response teams were stretched to deal with the natural disasters that frequently strike the country.

But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters left since the hardline Islamists returned to power, any immediate response to the latest catastrophe is further limited.

“The government is working within its capabilities,” tweeted Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official.

“We hope that the international community & aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation.”

The UN and EU were quick to offer assistance.

“Inter-agency assessment teams have already been deployed to a number of affected areas,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan tweeted.

Tomas Niklasson, EU special envoy for Afghanistan, tweeted: “The EU is monitoring the situation and stands ready to coordinate and provide EU emergency assistance to people and communities affected.”

Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes — especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

Scores of people were killed and injured in January when two quakes struck rural areas in the western province of Badghis, damaging hundreds of buildings.

In 2015, more than 380 people were killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake ripped across the two countries, with the bulk of the deaths in Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s deadliest recent earthquake killed 5,000 in May 1998 in the northeastern provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.

From the Vatican City, Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims of the latest quake.

“I express my closeness with the injured and those who were affected,” the 85-year-old pontiff said at the end of his weekly audience.

Aid agencies and the UN say Afghanistan needs billions of dollars this year to tackle its ongoing humanitarian crisis.

The agencies have particularly stressed the need for greater disaster preparedness in Afghanistan.

The quake occurred at around 1:30am at a depth of 10km, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

It was felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan, 480km from the epicenter, according to responses posted on the USGS and European Mediterranean Seismological Centre websites.

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