More than 1,000 people have been killed, and at least 1,500 have been injured. Unknown numbers are buried under the rubble of ruined, often mud houses. Southeastern Paktika province has been worst-affected, and the United Nations is scrambling to provide emergency shelter and food aid.
Rescue work is hampered due to heavy rains and a lack of resources.
Survivors and rescue workers told about destroyed villages, ruined roads and mobile phone towers near the epicentre and feared the death toll could rise further.
The deadliest quake to strike the country in two decades poses a significant challenge to the Taliban, the Islamist movement that seized power last year after the collapse of a Western-backed government.
Afghanistan is amidst a humanitarian and economic crisis. Abdul Kahar Balkhi, a senior Taliban official, said the government was “financially unable to assist the people to the extent they are needed”.
He said that aid agencies, neighbouring countries, and world powers are helping but added: “Aid needs to increase substantially because this is a devastating earthquake that has not been experienced in decades.”
The UN chief, Antonio Guterres, said the agency was “thoroughly organized” over the disaster. UN officials said health teams, medical supplies, food and emergency shelters were on their way to the quake zone.
Most of the casualties so far have been in the Gayan and Barmal districts of Paktika. A whole village in Gayan has reportedly been destroyed.
“There was a rumbling, and my bed began to shake”, one survivor, Shabir, told.
“The ceiling fell. I was trapped, but I could see the sky. My shoulder was dislocated, and my head was hurt, but I got out. I am sure seven or nine people from my family, who were in the same room as me, are dead”.
A doctor in Paktika said medical workers were among the victims.
“We didn’t have enough people and facilities before the earthquake, and now the earthquake has ruined the little we had,” the medic said. “I don’t know how many of our colleagues are still alive.”
Communication following the quake is difficult because of damage to mobile phone towers, and the death toll could still rise further, a local journalist in the area said.
“Many people are not aware of the well-being of their relatives because their phones are not working,” he said. “My brother and his family died, and I just learned it after many hours. Many villages have been destroyed.”