An earthquake of magnitude 6.1 that rocked Afghanistan has killed at least 280 people in the country’s east, officials of the interior ministry said on Wednesday, adding that hundreds of people were injured and the toll was likely to rise as information trickled in from remote mountain villages.
Most of the confirmed deaths were in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika, where 255 people had been killed and more than 200 injured, said interior ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi.
In Khost province, 25 people had been killed and 90 taken to hospital, he said. “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.”
Authorities had launched a rescue operation and helicopters were being used to reach the injured and take in medical supplies and food, Ayubi added.
Meanwhile, photographs on Afghan media showed houses reduced to rubble and bodies covered in blankets on the ground.
According to US Geological Survey, the earthquake occurred at 1:54am (PST), about 44 km (27 miles) from the city of Khost, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, at a depth of 51 km. The shaking was felt over some 500km by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
In Pakistan, tremors were felt in Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Kohat, Mohmand, Swat, Buner and other parts of Punjab and KP.
People left their homes in panic for safer places. “It was strong,” said a resident of Peshawar.
A report by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Disaster Management Authority said a man, resident of Lakki Marwat was killed in the earthquake after the roof of his room collapsed.
The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been enduring a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over August, as US-led international forces were withdrawing after two decades of war.
In response to the Taliban takeover, many governments have imposed sanctions on Afghanistan’s banking sector and cut billions of dollars worth of development aid.
Humanitarian aid has continued and international agencies such as the United Nations operate in the country.
An Afghan foreign ministry spokesman said they would welcome help from any international organisation.
Large parts of south Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate is pushing north into the Eurasian plate.
In 2015, an earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan.
Pakistan extends condolences
Immediately after the earthquake was reported, the government of Pakistan extended condolences and sympathies over the loss of lives and damage to property in the neighbouring country.
According to a Radio Pakistan report, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that Pakistan was standing with Afghan brothers and sisters in this difficult time and promised to provide all possible assistance.
Separately, a statement issued by Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “The people of Pakistan stand in strong solidarity with their Afghan brethren in this difficult time. We have no doubt that the brotherly Afghan people will overcome the effects of this natural calamity with their characteristic resilience.”
It added that Pakistani authorities and institutions were coordinating with relevant Afghan institutions to extend required assistance in the affected areas.