Quake kills 1,000 people, deadliest in decades
A powerful earthquake struck a rugged, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early on Wednesday, flattening stone and mud-brick homes and killing at least 1,000 people in the country’s deadliest quake in two decades, the state-run news agency reported.
An estimated 1,500 others were reported injured, and officials said the death toll could rise.
The disaster inflicted by the 6.1-magnitude quake posed a major test for Afghanistan’s Taliban government, which retook power nearly 10 months ago as the US and its NATO allies withdrew from the country and has been largely shunned by the rest of the world since.
In a rare move, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, who almost never appears in public, pleaded with the international community and humanitarian organisations “to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort to help the affected people”.
SEARCHING FOR THE VICTIMS
Residents in the remote area near the Pakistani border searched for victims dead or alive by digging with their bare hands through the rubble, seen in footage shown by the Bakhtar news agency. It was not immediately clear if heavy rescue equipment was being sent, or even if it could reach the area.
At least 2,000 homes were destroyed in the region, where, on average, every home has seven or eight people living in it, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN deputy special representative to Afghanistan.
The full extent of the destruction among the villages tucked in the mountains was slow in coming to light. Rutted roads – difficult to pass in the best of times – may have been badly damaged, and landslides from recent rains made access even more difficult.
Rescuers rushed in by helicopter, but the relief effort could be hindered by the exodus of many international aid agencies from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last August. Moreover, most governments are wary of dealing directly with the Taliban.
In a sign of the muddled workings between the Taliban and the rest of the world, Alakbarov said the Taliban had not formally requested that the UN mobilise international search-and-rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighbouring countries to supplement the few dozen ambulances and several helicopters sent in by Afghan authorities.
The disaster only compounds the misery in Afghanistan, which is already deep in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with millions facing increasing hunger and poverty after the cut-off of international financing to the Taliban. That has prompted a huge aid programme, but to avoid putting money in the Taliban’s hands, the world has funnelled funding through the UN and other humanitarian agencies, a system that may be too slow for an emergency response to the quake.
The quake was centred in Paktika province, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, according to neighboring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department. Experts put its depth at just 10 kilometres (6 miles). Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage.
The European seismological agency said the quake was felt over 500 kilometres (310 miles) by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Footage from Paktika showed men carrying people in blankets to a waiting helicopter. Other victims were treated on the ground. One person 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. Some images showed residents picking through clay bricks and other rubble. Roofs and walls had caved in.