By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — One of the strongest earthquakes to hit Afghanistan in decades has rocked the country’s north, leaving heavy casualties and damage in its wake across South Asia.
More than 30 people were reported killed in Afghanistan on October 26, while more than 120 were reported dead in neighboring Pakistan.
Twelve Afghan schoolgirls trying to flee their school in Takhar Province were among those who died as a result of the 7.5-magnitude quake.
Sonatullah Timor, spokesman for the governor of the northern Afghan province, spoke to RFE/RL about the tragedy that unfolded at the school in the provincial capital, Taloqan.
“Most of the girls died in a panic that ensued. No school was damaged in the quake,” he said. “However, there was a lot of panic, and, because there is only one exit at a school leading from the second to the ground floor, some of them could have died in the crush.”
Timor said that more than 30 schoolgirls had been hospitalized with injuries, some of them serious.
The earthquake, which hit Afghanistan’s northern Hindu Kush region, lasted at least one minute and shook buildings in Kabul, Islamabad, and Delhi and sent thousands of people rushing into the streets.
Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, who was providing updates on the situation on his official Twitter account, said that the government had requested help from aid agencies and was looking for ways to speed up the delivery of medical help.
In one tweet, he said the earthquake was the strongest one felt in recent memory.
An RFE/RL correspondent in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan Province witnessed several buildings collapse in the regional capital, Puli Khumri. The earthquake disrupted electricity supplies in the region’s districts and affected telephone connections.
RFE/RL correspondents in Pakistan report that the earthquake mainly affected the Swat Valley in the country’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where buildings collapsed in the city of Peshawar and nearby districts. Officials say that the number of killed in Pakistan was at least 60, with dozens of injuries reported.
In Indian controlled Kashmir, an 80-year-old woman died of a heart attack in the southern town of Bijbehara and two Indian army soldiers were injured when a sentry post collapsed on them in the town of Sopore, local police said.
The earthquake also caused landslides, disrupting regular traffic in various parts of Kashmir.
The landslides blocked the main highway connecting Pakistan and China. Karakoram Highway in northern Pakistan has been sealed off at multiple points, local authorities said. The blockage has stranded thousands of travelers and vehicles in remote areas.
Like Afghanistan’s Abdullah, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter after the earthquake.
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
The October 25 earthquake’s epicenter was just a few hundred kilometers from the site of a 7.6 magnitude quake that struck in October 2005, killing more than 75,000 people and displacing some 3.5 million more.