Eastern Afghanistan earthquake kills at least 255 people

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A massive earthquake struck eastern Afghanistan overnight Wednesday, killing more than 1,000 and injuring more than 1,600, government officials said.

The earthquake flattened homes while many people were sleeping. The epicenter was in the mountainous area near the country’s border with Pakistan — about 27 miles from the city of Khost — according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which put the magnitude at 5.9.

Tremors were felt in India and Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, and the provincial capital of Peshawar, according to Pakistan’s National Seismic Monitoring Center, but no severe damage or casualties were reported.

Maulawi Sharafuddin Muslim, the acting deputy minister for the country’s disaster management authority, said at a news conference that “some villages have been completely destroyed.” Muslim said he was relaying information from rescue officials and was “waiting for the details about the damages to houses.”

A helicopter landed in Afghanistan’s remote Paktika province on June 22 to transport those injured by an earthquake that has killed more than 900 people. (Video: Reuters)

He said an emergency cabinet meeting had been convened and that Afghanistan’s prime minister was leading the response, working with state institutions and ministries to coordinate rescue and relief efforts.

The government will allocate about $11 million in aid, Muslim said, with about $1,000 to be given to families of the deceased and $500 each to the injured.

In a news conference in New York on Wednesday, Ramiz Alakbarov, the U.N. resident coordinator in Afghanistan, said the United Nations has allocated $15 million to the rescue efforts.

He added that the United Nations is working to distribute aid packages to families that have been displaced but said that the agency lacks the workers to recover victims from the rubble and that it would the responsibility of “de facto authorities” to take charge of the mission.

Earlier Wednesday, before Muslim announced the much larger death toll as details emerge from the remote region, a Taliban official reported that 285 had been killed.

The province of Paktika was hit hardest, with earlier estimates of 255 killed and 500 wounded, said Muhammad Nasim Haqqani, a disaster management spokesman. He said at least 25 people were killed in the neighboring Khost province and five in the Nangahar province.

A Taliban government spokesman, Bilal Karimi, tweeted that the country would welcome help from international organizations.

“Last night, a severe earthquake killed and injured hundreds of our countrymen and destroyed dozens of houses in the four districts of Paktika province,” he said. “All aid agencies are urged to send their teams to the area immediately so that further catastrophe can be prevented.”

Amir Hakim Tanai, a Kabul-based official with the International Red Cross in Afghanistan, said that workers were on their way to collect information and assist in the rescue efforts.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan also said it had been asked to support the country’s disaster management authority.

“Inter-agency assessment teams have already been deployed to a number of affected areas,” the agency tweeted. “The UN and humanitarian country team in Afghanistan expresses deep sympathy to all people affected by this disaster.”

Mohamed Ayoya, the representative of UNICEF in Afghanistan, said in a statement that the U.N. Children’s Fund is acting swiftly to dispatch mobile health and nutrition teams to provide first aid to the injured, adding that kitchen equipment, blankets, tents and tarpaulins also will be provided.

“We don’t yet know the full extent of the devastation, but we believe hundreds of people have been killed, including many women and children. Numerous homes have been damaged or destroyed, and more people were injured. He said that these numbers will continue to rise as more reports are received.

Few countries have recognized the Taliban’s government since it came to power in August 2021 amid the rapid departure of U.S. and other Western forces. It has implemented ultraconservative social policies and restricted individual rights, even while seeking foreign aid.

Persistent poverty and lingering drought have threatened millions. A May report from the United Nations showed that childhood malnutrition is on the rise and that nearly half of Afghans do not have enough to eat. The international community and the Taliban are not responsible for Afghanistan’s hunger crisis.

But in a statement released by the White House Wednesday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States is working with humanitarian partners to deliver medical care and shelter supplies to Afghanistan.

“The United States is deeply saddened to see the devastating earthquake that took the lives of at least 1,000 people in Afghanistan. The statement stated that President Biden was monitoring the developments and directed USAID to evaluate U.S. responses options for those most in need.

“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.”

The epicenter of Wednesday’s quake was about 300 miles northeast of where a 2008 earthquake measured at magnitude 6.4 by the USGS killed 166 people.

The prime minister of neighboring Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif, tweeted that he was “deeply grieved” by the disaster.

“People in Pakistan share the grief & sorrow of their Afghan brethren,” he said, adding that Pakistani authorities also were working to support those affected by the quake.

Suliman reported from London and Hussain from Islamabad.

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