The death toll from an earthquake in Afghanistan has reached 1,000, disaster management officials say, with more than 600 injured and the toll is expected to rise as information seeps in from remote mountain villages.
Homes were reduced to rubble and bodies wrapped in blankets lay on the ground after the 6.1 earthquake on the Richter scale, pictures on Afghan media showed.
An unknown number of people were trapped under the rubble and in the countryside, photos showed.
Health and relief workers said rescue operations were hampered by difficult conditions, including rain, landslides and many villages nestled in inaccessible hilly areas.
“Many people are still buried underground. The rescue teams from the Islamic emirate have arrived and are trying to extract the dead and injured with the help of the locals,” said a health worker from one of Paktika’s main hospitals. anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Setting up a rescue operation will be a major test for the tough Islamist Taliban authorities, which took over the country last August after two decades of war and have been cut off from much international aid due to sanctions.
A spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said it was sending teams in addition to ambulances and helicopters sent by the Taliban-led defense ministry, which led the rescue efforts.
“While search and rescue efforts are underway, heavy rain and wind are hampering efforts with helicopters reportedly unable to land this afternoon,” he said via email.
“The death toll is likely to rise as some villages are located in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to gather details,” said Salahuddin Ayubi, an official at the interior ministry.
Wednesday’s earthquake was the deadliest in Afghanistan since 2002.
It struck about 44 km from the southeastern city of Khost, near the border with Pakistan, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.
The shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the Euro-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said on Twitter, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in Pakistan.
The EMSC estimated the magnitude of the earthquake at 6.1 although the USGC said it was 5.9.
Most of the confirmed deaths were in eastern Paktika province, where 255 people were killed and more than 200 injured, Ayubi added.
In Khost province, 25 were killed and 90 were taken to hospital.
Haibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the ruling Taliban, expressed his condolences in a statement.
An additional challenge for the Afghan authorities is the recent flooding in many regions, which the disaster agency said left 11 dead and 50 injured and parts of the highway blocked.
The disaster comes as Afghanistan grapples with a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over when US-led international forces withdrew from the country.
In response to the Taliban takeover, many countries have imposed sanctions on the Afghan banking sector and cut billions of dollars in development aid.
However, humanitarian aid from international organizations such as the United Nations has continued.
A foreign ministry spokesman said the Taliban would welcome international aid.
Several countries, including neighboring Pakistan and Iran, said they were sending humanitarian aid, including food and medicines.
Large parts of South Asia are seismically active as a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate pushes northward into the Eurasian plate.
In 2015, an earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast, killing hundreds of people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan.
In January, an earthquake struck western Afghanistan, killing more than 20 people.