A powerful earthquake struck a rural, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border early Wednesday, killing at least 920 people and injuring 600 others, authorities said. Officials warned the death toll would likely rise.
Information remained scarce on the magnitude 6.1 temblor that damaged buildings in Khost and Paktika provinces. Rescue efforts are likely to be complicated since many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover of the country last year and the chaotic withdrawal of the US military from the longest war in its history.
Neighboring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said the quake’s epicenter was in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, just near the border and some 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of the city of Khost. Such temblors can cause severe damage, particularly in an area like this one where homes and other buildings are poorly constructed and landslides are common. Footage from Paktika province showed people being carried into helicopters to be airlifted from the area. Others were treated on the ground. One resident could be seen receiving IV fluids while sitting in a plastic chair outside the rubble of his home and still more were sprawled on gurneys. Other images showed residents picking through clay bricks and other rubble from destroyed stone houses. Afghan emergency official Sharafuddin Muslim gave the death toll in a news conference Wednesday. Earlier, the director-general of state-run Bakhtar news agency, Abdul Wahid Rayan, wrote on Twitter that 90 houses have been destroyed in Paktika and dozens of people are believed trapped under the rubble. Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, gave no specific death toll but wrote on Twitter that hundreds of people were killed and injured in the earthquake, which shook four districts in Paktika.