Taliban officials say at least 920 people have been killed and hundreds more injured in a powerful earthquake in Afghanistan. Photos show landslides and ruined mud houses in East Paktika province, where rescuers scramble to treat the wounded.
Helicopters are transporting victims to hospitals in remote areas. Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada said hundreds of homes were destroyed, and the death toll was likely to rise.
His deputy minister for disaster management, Sharfuddin Muslim, told a press conference that at least 920 people were killed and more than 600 were injured. The quake occurred shortly after 01:30 (21:00 Tuesday GMT) local time, about 44 km (27 mi) southeast of the city of Khost, when many people were at home, sleeping in their beds.
Earthquakes cause significant damage in Afghanistan, where there are many rural areas where habitats are unstable or poorly built. Taliban officials asked aid agencies to reach the affected areas in the country’s east.
Decades of conflict have made it difficult for the developing country to improve its defences against earthquakes and other natural disasters, despite efforts by aid agencies to reinforce some buildings over the years.
Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s emergency services were augmented to deal with natural disasters – with few aircraft and helicopters available for rescuers.
A local doctor told the BBC that most of the casualties have been in the Gyan and Barmal districts of Paktika. Local media site Etilat-e-Rose reported that an entire village in Gian had been destroyed.
The tremors were felt in more than 500 kilometres of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Witnesses felt the quake in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul and Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.
However, according to BBC Urdu, there were no immediate reports of casualties, and the earthquake caused minor damage in Pakistan.
Afghanistan is prone to earthquakes, as it is located in a tectonically active region, on several fault lines, including the Chaman Fault, Hari Rud Fault, Central Badakhshan Fault and Darwaza Fault.
According to seismologists, the earthquake’s magnitude was 6.1 at a depth of about 51 km.
In the past ten years, more than 7,000 people have died in earthquakes in the country, reports the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Earthquakes cause an average of 560 deaths each year.