KABUL (AFP) – The death toll from an overnight earthquake in Afghanistan has risen to at least 1,000, an official in one of the worst-hit provinces said on Wednesday.
The magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit hardest in the rugged eastern region, where people are already struggling to cope with the worst humanitarian catastrophe since the Taliban took over in August.
The death toll continued to rise throughout the day as reports of casualties came from difficult mountainous areas, and the country’s supreme leader, Hebatullah Akhundzada, warned that it was likely to rise further.
“So far we have information that at least 920 people have been martyred and 600 injured,” Deputy Minister for Disaster Management Sharafuddin Muslim told a news conference in the capital Kabul.
Earlier, a tribal leader from Paktika Province – one of the worst-hit areas – said survivors and rescuers were rushing to the rescue.
“Local markets are closed and everyone has reached the affected areas,” Manzoor told AFP by telephone.
Photos and video clips posted on social media show badly damaged mud houses in remote rural areas.
Some footage shows locals loading victims in a military helicopter.
Offer of help
Even before the Taliban took over, Afghanistan’s emergency response teams were trained to deal with the natural disasters that often come to the country.
But with just a handful of air-capable planes and helicopters, immediate response is often limited. Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official, tweeted that “the government is working within its capabilities.” “We hope that the international community and aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation.”
The United Nations and the European Union offered immediate assistance. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Afghanistan tweeted that “inter-agency assessment teams have already been deployed in several affected areas.”
EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan Thomas Nicholson tweeted: “The EU is monitoring the situation and is ready to provide EU emergency assistance to the affected people and communities.”
Afghanistan is prone to frequent earthquakes – especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, near the confluence of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. Hundreds of people were killed and injured when two earthquakes struck rural areas in the western province of Badghis in January, damaging hundreds of buildings.
In 2015, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake in Pakistan and Afghanistan killed more than 380 people, most of them in Pakistan. Pope Francis from Vatican City prays for the victims of the latest quake.
“I express my condolences to the injured and affected,” the 85-year-old pope said at the end of his weekly audience. The latest quake comes at a time when Afghanistan is battling a devastating humanitarian catastrophe that has worsened since the Taliban took over the country.
Aid agencies and the United Nations say Afghanistan needs billions of dollars this year to deal with the crisis. Relief agencies have stressed the need for more preparedness, especially in Afghanistan, which is prone to recurrent earthquakes, floods and landslides.
According to responses posted on the websites of the USGS and the European Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC), the tremors were felt 480 km (300 miles) away from the epicenter in Lahore, Pakistan.