A powerful earthquake struck Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika province early on Wednesday, killing at least 255 people and injuring hundreds more, state-run media said.
Afghanistan’s state-run Bakhtar news agency reported the death toll and said rescuers were arriving by helicopter. The news agency’s director-general, Abdul Wahid Rayan, wrote on Twitter that 90 houses have been destroyed in Paktika and dozens of people are believed trapped under the rubble.
Footage from Paktika province near the Pakistan border showed victims being carried into helicopters to be airlifted from the area. Images widely circulating online from the province showed destroyed stone houses, with residents picking through clay bricks and other rubble.
“A severe earthquake shook four districts of Paktika province, killing and injuring hundreds of our countrymen and destroying dozens of houses,” Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, separately wrote on Twitter. “We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further catastrophe.”
The quake struck about 44 kilometres (27 miles) from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, at a depth of 51 kilometres, the US Geological Survey said. The European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
The head of the Taliban administration’s natural disaster ministry, Mohammad Nassim Haqqani, said the majority of deaths were in the province of Paktika, where 100 people were killed and 250 injured. Another 25 people were killed in Khost and five in Nangarhar province, he said, adding that investigations were being conducted to determine if there were more casualties.
The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been enduring a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over in August as US-led international forces withdrew after two decades of war. In response to the Taliban takeover, many governments have imposed sanctions on Afghanistan’s banking sector and cut billions of dollars worth of development aid.
Mountainous Afghanistan and the larger region of South Asia, where the Indian tectonic plate collides with the Eurasian plate to the north, has long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes.
In 2015, a major earthquake that struck the country’s northeast killed over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighbouring northern Pakistan. A similar 6.1-magnitude quake in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, a 6.1-magnitude quake and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s northeast killed at least 4,500 people.