By Ayaz Gul
A powerful earthquake in Afghanistan’s southeast has killed more than 1,000 people and injured hundreds of others, Taliban authorities said.
Rescue workers said the casualties from the quake, which struck during the early hours of Wednesday, were likely to increase further.
Deputy Taliban Minister for Disaster Management Mawlawi Sharafuddin Muslim told a news conference in the capital, Kabul that most of the devastation occurred in southeastern Paktika and Khost provinces, which border Pakistan.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the magnitude 6.1 quake struck about 44 kilometers from the provincial capital of Khost.
Local journalists and witnesses reported the death toll could be as high as 2,500.
Provincial chief Mohammad Amin told VOA that at least 1,000 people were killed, and 1,500 others injured in two districts of Paktika alone.
Videos shared on social media showed flattened homes and rubble. The earthquake also rattled Kabul.
Aziz Aziz, a local resident of Paktika province, told VOA Pashto service, “People are still working to rescue people trapped under rubble.”
He added that local communities and Taliban authorities were in the areas affected by the earthquake to assist locals “with whatever they have.”
“Local people in a large number have gone to the affected areas. They are moving the wounded and killed. Local people are helping the affected people and providing them with medicine, food and shelter,” added Aziz.
“But that is not enough,” said Aziz, calling on the international community to help the local affected communities.
Zaman Nazari, a local journalist in southeastern Afghanistan’s Khost province, told VOA’s Dari Service that “local people want the aid agencies and international community to urgently help the poor families who are affected by the earthquake.”
Taliban authorities said people were still under the rubble and rescue efforts, backed by helicopters, were underway. They also urged all aid organizations working in Afghanistan to help in the rescue operations.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement expressing his condolences to the Afghan people. He also urged the international community to help support impacted families. He said the U.N. country team is fully mobilized and assessing needs and providing support on the ground.
Ramiz Alakbarov, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, told reporters that at least $15 million is needed for immediate needs, but a fuller appeal is expected as the extent of the damage and the numbers of people affected becomes clearer.
He said heavy rains, wind and snow in the area had complicated rescue efforts.
Alakbarov said the Taliban authorities had dispatched more than 50 ambulances to the affected areas, along with teams of doctors. They had also deployed about five military helicopters with airlift capabilities.
The International Committee of the Red Cross tweeted that it was sending additional medical supplies to three hospitals in the areas affected by the earthquake.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the “United States expresses deep sorrow for the victims of today’s devastating earthquake in Afghanistan.”
“The people of Afghanistan have undergone extraordinary hardship, and this natural disaster compounds an already dire humanitarian situation,” he said in a statement. “U.S. humanitarian partners are already responding, including by sending medical teams to help people affected, and we are assessing other response options.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said President Joe Biden is “monitoring developments and has directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess U.S. response options to help those most affected.”
“The United States is proud to be the single largest donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and our humanitarian partners are already delivering medical care and shelter supplies on the ground,” Sullivan said in a statement Wednesday. “We are committed to continuing our support for the needs of the Afghan people as we stand with them during and in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy.”
Tremors were reportedly felt across more than 500 kilometers of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, according to the European Mediterranean Seismological Center.
Residents in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and the northwestern city, Peshawar, also said they experienced tremors but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Islamabad extended condolences to Afghanistan over the devastation caused by the earthquake.
“Our authorities and institutions are working to extend required assistance to Afghanistan in coordination with their relevant institutions,” said a Pakistani foreign ministry statement.
Afghanistan is already among the world’s largest humanitarian emergencies. The United Nations says in part due to severe drought and economic crisis, more than 24 million people need assistance and malnutrition is on the rise. The U.N. has appealed for $4.4 billion this year, but currently faces a 70% shortfall.
United Nations Correspondent Margaret Besheer in New York and VOA’s Afghan Service contributed to this report.