At least 255 dead in eastern Afghanistan earthquake

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — At least 255 people were killed in an earthquake in eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, authorities said.

Information on the magnitude-6 earthquake that hit Paktika province is still scant, but the international community has largely been shaken after the Taliban took over the country last year amid a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from the longest war in history. left Afghanistan.

That could complicate any relief efforts in the country of 38 million.

The state-run Bakhtar news agency reported the death toll and said rescuers arrived by helicopter. Abdul Wahid Rayan, the news agency’s director general, tweeted that 90 homes were destroyed in Paktika and dozens of people were believed to be trapped under the rubble.

Video from Paktika province, near the Pakistani border, showed victims being lifted into helicopters and airlifted from the area. Pictures widely circulated online in the province showed stone houses destroyed and residents picking up among clay bricks and other rubble.

Bakhtar posted footage of a resident receiving IV fluids in a plastic chair outside the ruins of their home, while others lay on stretchers.

Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, separately tweeted: “A severe earthquake shook four districts in Paktika province, killing and wounding hundreds of compatriots, dozens of Houses were destroyed.” “We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further disasters.”

In just one area in the neighbouring Khost province, the earthquake killed at least 25 people and injured more than 95, local officials said, while warning the death toll would rise without emergency government help.

Kabul Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund called an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate rescue efforts for victims of Paktika and Khost.

Ramiz Arakbarov, the UN coordinator in Afghanistan, offered his condolences to the victims and said the world body’s agencies were responding to the devastation caused by the earthquake.

“Responding,” he tweeted.

Neighboring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department rated the quake at a magnitude of 6.1. The tremors were felt in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad and elsewhere in the eastern Punjab province. Some remote parts of Pakistan have seen reports of damage to houses near the Afghan border, but it was unclear whether this was due to rain or an earthquake, said Tamor Khan, a disaster management spokesman for the region.

In a statement, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif expressed his condolences over the earthquake, saying his country would help the Afghan people.

The European earthquake agency EMSC said 119 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India felt the tremors within a range of more than 500 kilometers (310 miles).

The mountainous region of Afghanistan and greater South Asia along the Hindu Kush mountains where the Indian tectonic plate collides with the northern Eurasian plate has long been vulnerable to damaging earthquakes. Poor construction of houses, hospitals and other structures puts them at risk of collapse in earthquakes, while landslides are still common in the mountains of Afghanistan.

In 2015, a major earthquake that struck the northeast of the country killed more than 200 people in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. A similar magnitude 6.1 earthquake in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan. In 1998, at least 4,500 people were killed when a magnitude 6.1 earthquake and subsequent quakes struck the remote northeast of Afghanistan.

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Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Jon Gambrell and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

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