Rescuers, desperate to rescue survivors from rubble after a powerful earthquake that struck a mountainous region in Afghanistan, killed at least 1,000 people, battled against the clock on Thursday amid rain.
The 5.9-magnitude quake was the hardest in the rugged east, where people were already living hard lives amid a humanitarian crisis since the Taliban takeover in August.
“People are digging grave after grave,” said Mohamed Amin Huzaifa, head of the Department of Information and Culture in Paktika. He said at least 1,000 people had died in that province alone.
He said more than 1,500 people were injured, many of whom were in critical condition.
“People are still buried under the rubble,” he told reporters.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the global agency has “fully mobilized” to help deploy health teams to the earthquake zone and supply medicine, food, trauma kits and emergency shelter.
The toll rose sharply on Wednesday after reports of casualties from inaccessible areas in the mountains and the country’s supreme leader Hebtollah Akhundzada warned it could rise further.
The earthquake affected areas that were already suffering from the effects of heavy rains, causing rockfalls and landslides that hampered rescue efforts.
“It was a terrible situation,” said 22-year-old Arup Khan, who is recovering at a hospital in Sharan, the provincial capital of Paktika.
“There was screaming everywhere. The kids and my family were in the mud.”
‘Like a tsunami’
Mohammed Yahya Weir, director of Sharan Hospital, said they were doing their best to treat everyone.
“Our country is poor and lacking resources,” he told AFP. “It’s a humanitarian crisis. It’s like a tsunami.”
Images and videos posted on social media showed badly damaged houses in remote areas. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alkabarov told reporters that about 2,000 homes were likely to be destroyed.
Footage released by the Taliban showed people in a village digging a long moat to bury the dead, who according to Islamic tradition should be laid to rest in front of Mecca.
The disaster poses a major challenge to the Taliban, who have largely isolated the country from their radical Islamist policies – especially the subjugation of women and girls.
Even before the takeover of the Taliban, Afghanistan’s emergency response teams were augmented to deal with frequent natural disasters in the country.
But with only a handful of airplanes and helicopters left since returning to power, any immediate response to the latest catastrophe has been further limited.
“The government is acting within its capabilities,” tweeted Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official.
“We hope that the international community and aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation.”
offers of help
The White House said the United States, whose troops helped topple the initial Taliban regime and lived in Afghanistan for two decades until Washington pulled them out last year, was “deeply hurt” by the earthquake.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement, “President Biden is monitoring developments and assessing US response options to help USAID (the US Agency for International Development) and other federal government partners to help those most affected.” instructed to do so.”
The European Union was also quick to offer assistance.
EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson tweeted: “The EU is monitoring the situation and stands ready to coordinate and provide EU emergency assistance to affected people and communities.”
Neighboring Pakistan, where officials said one person was killed in the quake, said it would send emergency aid – including tents – across the border.
prayer for the victims
Afghanistan is frequently vulnerable to earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which is located near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
Hundreds of people were killed in two earthquakes in the western province of Badghis in January.
In 2015, more than 380 people were killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck both countries.
Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake killed 5,000 people in the northeastern provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan in May 1998.
From the Vatican, Pope Francis prays for the victims of the latest earthquake.
The 85-year-old saint concluded his weekly audience, saying, “I express my closeness to the injured and those affected.”
The quake struck at a depth of 10 kilometers (six miles) early Wednesday, according to the United States Geological Survey.
It was felt up to Lahore, Pakistan, 480 km from the epicenter of the earthquake.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)