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At least 1,000 people killed after 6.1 magnitude earthquake in Afghanistan

Officials warned the death toll will likely rise.

Rescue efforts are likely to be complicated since many aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last year
Rescue efforts are likely to be complicated since many aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last year
Image: PA Images

Updated Wed 4:47 PM

THE UNITED NATIONS’ humanitarian agency has said it is scrambling to get emergency shelter, trauma care and food aid to the scene of a deadly earthquake in Afghanistan which has killed at least 1,000 people.

The death toll is expected to rise, with around 1,500 others injured.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its first response bulletin that humanitarian partners were preparing to assist affected families in Paktika and Khost provinces, in coordination with the Taliban authorities.

“Immediate needs identified include emergency trauma care, emergency shelter and non-food items, food assistance and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) support,” OCHA said.

“Given the unseasonable, heavy rains and cold, emergency shelter is an immediate priority.”

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.

An estimated 2,000 homes have been destroyed by the deadly quake, and a lack of machinery is hampering a rush to find survivors, a UN envoy said today.

“We believe that nearly 2,000 homes are destroyed,” the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov told reporters.

Briefing journalists at the UN’s headquarters in New York via video-link from Kabul, Alakbarov said the number of people displaced would be much higher.

“The average size of an Afghan family is at least seven, eight people,” he added, noting that sometimes several families live in one house.

UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, has also deployed at least 12 teams of health workers to Gayan, and several mobile health and nutrition teams to Barmal district in Paktika province and Spera district in Khost province, OCHA said.

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 stretchers.

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 press conference today.

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.

The Afghan Red Crescent Society has sent some 4,000 blankets, 800 tents and 800 kitchen kits to the affected area, he added.

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.

“We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further catastrophe,” he wrote.

bakhtar Taliban fighters secure a government helicopter to evacuate injured people in Gayan district, Paktika province. Source: Bakhtar State News Agency

In just one district of the neighbouring Khost province, the earthquake killed at least 25 people and injured over 95 others, local officials said.

Emergency meeting 

In Kabul, Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund convened an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate the relief effort for victims in Paktika and Khost.

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The “response is on its way”, the UN resident coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, wrote on Twitter.

Some remote areas of Pakistan saw reports of damage to homes near the Afghan border, but it was not immediately clear if that was due to rain or the earthquake, said Taimoor Khan, a disaster management spokesman in the area.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif in a statement offered his condolences over the earthquake, saying his nation will provide help to the Afghan people.

The European seismological agency, EMSC, said the earthquake’s tremors were felt over 310 miles away by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Tomas Niklasson, EU special envoy for Afghanistan, tweeted: “The EU is monitoring the situation and stands ready to coordinate and provide EU emergency assistance to people and communities affected.”

Mountainous Afghanistan and the larger region of South Asia along the Hindu Kush mountains has long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes.

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

A 6.1-magnitude earthquake in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan.

And in 1998, another earthquake of the same strength and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people.

With an additional reporting from AFP

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