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Pakistani plane carrying relief supplies joins Afghan earthquake relief effort

ISLAMABAD – A Pakistani military cargo plane carrying relief supplies for the earthquake-stricken population of Afghanistan landed at Khost airport on Saturday, officials said, as tents, food and medical supplies rolled into the mountainous region.

Thousands were left homeless or injured by this week’s powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan, which killed 1,150 people, according to state media. An aftershock on Friday claimed another five lives.

121 children were killed in Wednesday’s magnitude 6 earthquake, and that number is expected to rise, the representative of the United Nations Children’s Office in Afghanistan said. He said nearly 70 children were injured.

Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador in the Afghan capital, Kabul, said relief supplies shipped from Pakistan on Saturday have been handed over to Taliban officials.

Previously, the Pakistani government and a Pakistani charity had sent 13 trucks of food, tents, life-saving medicines and other essential items to Afghanistan.

A 19-strong team from the neighboring country, made up of doctors and paramedics, assisted the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan in Khost with medical treatment for those injured in Wednesday’s earthquake.

The earthquake hit a remote, deeply impoverished region of small towns and villages nestled among rugged mountains near the Pakistani border, causing stone and mud houses to collapse, in some cases killing entire families. Nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Paktika and Khost provinces, state media reported.

Officials said Pakistan has opened its border in the northwest to transport seriously injured Afghans to hospitals in Pakistan. But it was unclear how many Afghans have arrived for medical treatment from the earthquake-affected areas of northwest Pakistan.

Overloaded aid agencies said the disaster highlighted the need for the international community to reconsider Afghanistan’s financial lockdown since Taliban insurgents took over the country 10 months ago. Those policies, which cut billions in development aid and freeze vital reserves, have contributed to the collapse of the economy and plunge Afghanistan deeper into humanitarian crises and near famine. Efforts to help the victims have been slowed down by both geography and Afghanistan’s decimated condition.

Rough roads through the mountains, already slow to drive on, were exacerbated by earthquake damage and rain. The International Red Cross has five hospitals in the region, but road damage made it difficult for those in the worst-affected areas to reach them, said Lucien Christen, ICRC spokesman in Afghanistan.

Also on Saturday, an Afghan military helicopter was carrying food and other supplies to people in Gayan district of Paktika province. Dozens of men and children gathered in an open space under the hot sun to wait for food, water and tents from the Afghan Red Crescent.

The aid agency said it was distributing relief supplies to about 1,000 families in the district, including food, tents and clothing.

Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.