Powerful quake in Afghanistan kills at the minimum 1,000 people

Powerful quake in Afghanistan kills at the minimum 1,000 people

A powerful earthquake hit a rural, mountainous vicinity of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, killing 1,000 people and injuring 1,500 more in one of the deadliest quakes in decades, the state-run news agency reported. Officials warned that the already grim death toll may nevertheless rise.

Information remained scarce on the extent-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 disorganized withdrawal of the U.S. military from the longest war in its history.

The death toll given by the Bakhtar News Agency was equal to that of a quake in 2002 in northern Afghanistan. Those are the deadliest since 1998, when a 6.1-extent earthquake and later tremors in Afghanistan’s far away northeast killed at the minimum 4,500 people.

Neighbouring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said the quake’s epicentre was in Paktika, just near the border and some 50 kilometres southwest of the city of Khost.

Afghan boys sit near their house which was destroyed in an earthquake in the southwestern part of Khost province on Wednesday. (The Associated Press)

Footage from Paktika near the Pakistan border showed victims 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 nevertheless more were sprawled on gurneys. Other images showed residents picking by clay bricks and other rubble from destroyed stone houses.

Afghan emergency official Sharafuddin Muslim gave the death toll in a news conference Wednesday. Earlier, Bakhtar’s director general, Abdul Wahid Rayan, wrote on Twitter that 90 houses have been destroyed in Paktika and dozens of people are believed retained under the rubble.

In a scarce move, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, who almost never appears in public, pleaded with the international community and humanitarian organizations “to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort.”

WATCH | Challenges to providing aid in affected areas: 

Afghanistan quake worsens existing crisis: Red Cross

Rad Al Hadid, head of operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Afghanistan in Kabul, tells CBC News that Tuesday’s earthquake exacerbates an current economic and humanitarian crisis that has gripped the county since the Taliban’s takeover last summer.

UN agencies granted access 

But in a sign of the muddled workings between the Taliban and the rest of the world, the United Nations resident co-ordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, said the Taliban had not formally requested that the UN mobilize international search-and-rescue teams or acquire equipment from neighbouring countries to supplement the few dozen ambulances and several helicopters sent in by Afghan authorities. nevertheless, officials from multiple UN agencies said the Taliban were giving them complete access to the area.

Humanitarian agencies nevertheless operating in the country, including UNICEF, rushed supplies to the quake-stricken areas. And Pakistan said it would send food, tents, blankets and other essentials.

Obtaining more direct international help may be more difficult: Many countries, including the U.S., funnel humanitarian aid to Afghanistan by the UN and other such organizations to avoid putting money in the Taliban’s hands.

An injured Afghan child is treated at a hospital in the city of Sharan in Gayan district, Paktika province, on Wednesday. (Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP/Getty Images)

The quake “will only add to the immense humanitarian needs in Afghanistan, and it really has to be all hands on deck to make sure that we really limit the experiencing that families, that women and children are already going by,” said Shelley Thakral, spokesperson for the the UN World Food Program in Kabul.

After the Taliban swept across the country in 2021, the U.S. military and its allies fell back to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport and later withdrew completely.

Many international humanitarian organizations followed suit because of concerns about security and the Taliban’s poor human rights record.

In the time since, the Taliban has worked with Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on restarting airport operations in Kabul and across the country — but nearly all international carriers nevertheless avoid the country.

The Afghan Red Crescent Society, however, sent 4,000 blankets, 800 tents and 800 kitchen kits to the affected area, according to Rayan.

The Italian medical aid group Emergency, which nevertheless operates in Afghanistan, said it sent seven ambulances and staff to the areas closest to the quake zone.

Tremors felt in Pakistan and India

In most places in the world, an earthquake of this extent wouldn’t inflict such extensive devastation, said Robert Sanders, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. But a quake’s death toll more often comes down to geography, building quality and population density.

In mountainous areas, “there are rockslides and landslides …. Older buildings are likely to crumble and fail,” he said.

“Due to how condensed the area is in that part of the world, we’ve seen in the past similar earthquakes deal meaningful damage.”

Mountainous Afghanistan and the larger vicinity of South Asia along the Hindu Kush mountains, where the Indian tectonic plate collides with the Eurasian plate to the north, has long been unprotected to devastating earthquakes.

The European seismological agency, EMSC, said the earthquake’s tremors were felt over 500 kilometres by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

In 2015, a major earthquake that hit the country’s northeast killed over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighbouring northern Pakistan. 

In this photo released by the news agency Bakhtar, Afghans look at destruction caused by the earthquake in the province of Paktika, early Wednesday. (Bakhtar News Agency/The Associated Press)

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