Afghanistan earthquake: more than 1,000 killed and hundreds injured in Paktika province

Taliban appeal for aid after at least 1,500 hurt in 6.1-magnitude quake

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The death toll from a 6.1-magnitude earthquake that struck the eastern Afghan province of Paktika in the early hours of Wednesday has risen to more than 1,000, the state-run news agency reported.

In addition to those killed, at least 1,500 people were injured across four districts, the head of the Information and Culture department told Bakhtar News Agency.

The Taliban have appealed for aid agencies to send assistance to the site of the disaster.

The quake struck about 46 kilometres south-west of Khost city in eastern Afghanistan at a depth of 51km, the US Geological Survey said.

Ninety houses were damaged in the province and some villages were completely destroyed. The number of casualties rose as rescue operations continued.

“Unfortunately, last night there was a severe earthquake in four districts of Paktika province, which killed and injured hundreds of our countrymen and destroyed dozens of houses,” Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi wrote on Twitter.

“We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further catastrophe.”

Paktika official Huzaifa Paktikawal told The National that medical teams from the provincial centre Sharana, neighbouring Paktia province and capital Kabul reached the area to provide emergency medical services.

Unicef said it was sending emergency aid to the area, including "several mobile health and nutrition teams to provide first aid to those who are injured". The deliveries would include blankets, water and hygiene kits to ward off potential disease outbreaks.

"The de facto authorities have requested the support of Unicef rand other UN agency teams who are joining efforts to assess the situation and respond to the needs of the affected communities," the statement said.

Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN’s deputy special representative and resident humanitarian co-ordinator in Kabul, called for $15 million in emergency relief aid on Wednesday.

“We're concerned about not just non-food items and getting people into shelters and providing medical supplies, but also preventing waterborne diseases,” Mr Alakbarov said from his office in Kabul.

US President Joe Biden meanwhile directed the Agency for International Development (USAID) to "assess US response options", National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

China, one of a small number of countries to have maintained a diplomatic mission in Kabul since the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan last year, said it would send aid.

"We are in close contact with relevant parties on the heavy casualties and property losses caused by the earthquake in eastern Afghanistan," tweeted China's ambassador in Kabul, quoting a representative of China International Development Co-operation Agency. "We are willing to provide emergency relief assistance according to the needs of the Afghan people."

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Military helicopters flew to the province to help in the search for people trapped in landslides in the aftermath of the quake.

“Houses that were built on the sides of mountains were all damaged as they were already vulnerable,” a resident from Paktika told The National.

“Hundreds of people have died since late last night but the casualties are going to be even higher. Some areas turned into graveyards.”

The body of a child is recovered after the earthquake in Afghanistan's eastern Paktika province. Photo: Bakhtar News Agency

Residents said there was an urgent need for medical and humanitarian assistance.

“There are limited facilities across the province as it’s the least developed province,” one said.

“International organisations must reach the area with emergency packages to help the families affected by the earthquake.”

Bakhtar also reported casualties in Khost province.

“Sixty-five people are killed and injured in different areas of Khost province and hundreds of houses are damaged,” it said.

The earthquake came after heavy rain and snow in several provinces, which had caused deadly floods.

On Tuesday, Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority deputy minister Mawlawi Sharafuddin Muslim said floods in several provinces had killed at least 10 people.

Officials expect the death toll from the earthquake in Paktika province to increase. Photo: Bakhtar News Agency

“Due to the recent floods in eight provinces, 10 people were killed and two others were injured,” Mr Muslim said.

“In addition, 500 houses and several kilometres of roads were damaged, while 3,500 jeribs [700 hectares] of agricultural land was destroyed and 1,000 animals lost.”

Afghanistan analyst Hekmatullah Zaland, who works with the Centre for Strategic and Regional Studies, told The National the situation would only get worse.

“Several districts of Paktika province have seen very little progress in the past 20 years, due to heavy Taliban presence in the areas," he said. "With no clinics and little aid readiness, I fear the casualties will rise rapidly.

“Humanitarian organisations are the only hope right now. If medical and emergency aid reaches the area on time, it will save the lives of many families, especially women and children.”

Ashraf Ghani, the former president of Afghanistan who fled the country on August 15, 2021, as the Taliban seized power, expressed his condolences to the victims on Wednesday afternoon.

"My condolences to the families of the victims in Paktika, Khost and other parts of the country," he wrote on Twitter. "I ask the martyrs from the court of God to grant them paradise and the wounded a speedy recovery."

Tremors were felt in other provinces, including Kabul, Ghazni, Logar, Maidan Wardak, Laghman and Nangarhar.

Updated: June 23, 2022, 8:30 AM
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