At least 1,000 people were killed and hundreds injured in a powerful earthquake that struck a remote border area in southeastern Afghanistan overnight Tuesday, authorities said, fearing the toll could rise.
“People are digging grave after grave,” said Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, chief of information and culture of Paktika province, in a statement to the press.
In his only province, which has been hit the hardest, with that of Khost, “the number of dead has reached 1,000 and this number is increasing,” he specified in a message sent to the press.
“It is also raining and all the houses are destroyed. There are no tents or food. People are still trapped under the rubble (…) We need immediate help,” Mr. Huzaifa said.
The government, which has also reported at least 600 injured, fears that the toll will continue to rise because of the relief efforts.
The magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday at a depth of 10 km, very close to the border with Pakistan, according to the American Seismological Institute (USGS).
A second 4.5 magnitude quake hit the same location at almost the same time, according to the USGS.
According to Yaqub Manzor, a Paktika tribal leader, many of the injured were from the province’s Giyan district and were taken to hospital by ambulance and helicopter.
“Local markets are closed and people have rushed to the affected areas (to help),” he told AFP by phone.
Photos posted on social media show collapsed houses on the streets of a village in this poor and inaccessible rural region.
Videos also show residents of the affected areas loading the injured onto a helicopter.
“Much of the region is mountainous and travel is difficult. It will take time to transport the dead and injured,” said Natural Disasters Minister Mohammad Abbas Akhund.
The operational forces in Afghanistan, which have long been limited in number and capacity, are unsuitable for dealing with a major natural disaster.
And international aid has been difficult to mobilize as NGOs and UN agencies have been less present than in the past since the Taliban took power in August.
“The government is doing its best,” tweeted Anas Haqqani, another senior Taliban official. “We hope that the international community and humanitarian organizations will also help people in this terrible situation.”
The earthquake was felt in several provinces in the region and also in the capital Kabul, which is about 200 km north of the epicenter.
One person was also killed and some houses damaged in neighboring Pakistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said he was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy, noting that the Pakistani authorities were working to support their Afghan counterparts.
“The European Union is monitoring the situation (…) and stands ready to coordinate and provide emergency assistance,” her special envoy for Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, also tweeted.
The United Nations said it had deployed teams to assess the extent of damage in several of the affected areas, and Pope Francis expressed his “sympathy” to the victims from the Vatican.
Afghanistan is frequently struck by earthquakes, particularly in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies at the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
These disasters can be particularly devastating due to the weak resilience of rural Afghan homes.
In October 2015, a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the Hindu Kush mountain range between Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing more than 380 people in those two countries.
Since the Taliban came to power in Kabul, Afghanistan has plunged into a severe financial and humanitarian crisis, caused by the freezing of billions of assets abroad and the sudden halt to international aid that had been at a distance for the country for 20 years held and held, now they come back in droplets and droplets.
The earthquake that killed at least 920 people in Afghanistan on Tuesday night is one of the deadliest in the country since 1998.
Here’s a reminder of the country’s deadliest earthquakes in thirty years.
1991: 1,500 dead in Afghanistan and Pakistan
February 1, 1991 – A 6.9 MW (USGS) earthquake hits Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 1,500 people, Afghan officials say. The quake is felt in northern India and Tajikistan.
1998: Thousands dead
On February 4, 1998, an earthquake in Takhar province (northeast) killed around 4,500 people and left thousands homeless.
The districts of Rostak, Guzar Darra and Ganda Chashma, villages near the Tajik border, have been hardest hit. The magnitude was estimated at 5.6 or 6 on the Richter scale.
On May 30, a 6.6 Mwb earthquake (USGS) again struck the north-east of the country, killing about 5,000 people, injuring 1,500 and devastating many villages in Rostak and Chah-ab (Takhar province) and Shahr-i districts – Bozorg (Badakhshan Province).
2002: Hundreds of dead
On March 3, a powerful earthquake measuring 7.4 mWS (USGS) shook the north of the country, killing 70 to 150 people in Samangan province, according to sources.
On March 25, another 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck Baghlan province in the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains (north) leaving more than 800 dead, 300 injured and thousands homeless. The small town of Nahrin (20,000 inhabitants) is totally razed to the ground.
2012: 75 dead
On June 11, 2012, three tremors measuring 5.2, 5.4 and 5.7 on the Richter scale completely destroyed 114 houses in Baghlan province (north) and killed 75, including 71 in the small village of Mullah Jan, the was buried under a landslide.
2015: almost 400 dead in Afghanistan and Pakistan
On October 26, 2015, a powerful 7.5 Mww (USGS) earthquake struck the Hindu Kush mountain range between Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing more than 380 people in the two countries combined.