Nearly 1,000 killed after strong earthquake jolts Afghanistan

KABUL: The death toll from a powerful earthquake in Afghanistan has reached nearly 1000, with more than 600 others wounded, according to the Taliban’s disaster management official, as rescuers try to reach the site of the disaster in remote Paktika and Khost provinces.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the magnitude of the earthquake in the early hours of Wednesday was 5.9, revising an initial estimate at 6.1. The epicentre of the tremor was about 46km (27 miles) from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, the USGS said.

“So far the information we have is that at least 920 people have been martyred and 600 injured,” Mawlawi Sharafuddin Muslim, deputy minister of disaster management, told a news conference on Wednesday.

Earlier, interior ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi earlier said the death toll was likely to rise “as some of the villages are in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to collect details”.

Yaqub Manzor, a tribal leader from Paktika province, said survivors were mobilising to help those affected.

“The local markets are closed and all the people have rushed to the affected areas,” he told AFP news agency by telephone.

Paktika province showed victims being carried into helicopters to be airlifted from the area. Images widely circulating online from the province showed destroyed homes, with residents going through the rubble.Afghan journalist Ali M Latifi, reporting from Kabul, said people as far as the Afghan capital, some 200km (124 miles) away, felt the aftershocks.

Authorities are reporting hundreds of houses have been destroyed in the region, which has not seen a lot of development, Latifi said.

“Authorities have sent helicopters and are calling for aid agencies to come in and rescue people from the rubble. But it’s a remote area and harder to reach,” he added.

“The international rescue committee said they have deployed a local medical team to try and respond to the disaster.

“The biggest issue is how to reach the sites because they are further away from the provincial capitals, and the road conditions could be difficult. So really the issue is how long it’s going to take them to get there,” the Afghan journalist said.

Hedayatullah Paktin, journalist and political writer, said that most houses in the region are built in the traditional style, with the use of soil, stone and other materials, adding that concrete houses are rare.

Unfortunately, the quake hits at a time when Afghanistan is already suffering an economic crisis, with little access to basic needs and medical facilities, Paktin told media.