The death toll from a powerful earthquake in Afghanistan has climbed to 920, with more than 600 others wounded, according to the Taliban’s disaster management official, as rescuers try to reach the site of the disaster in remote Paktika and Khost provinces.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the magnitude of the earthquake in the early hours of Wednesday was 5.9, revising an initial estimate at 6.1. The epicentre of the tremor was about 46km (27 miles) from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, the USGS said.
“The international rescue committee said they have deployed a local medical team to try and respond to the disaster.
“The biggest issue is how to reach the sites because they are further away from the provincial capitals, and the road conditions could be difficult. So really the issue is how long it’s going to take them to get there,” the Afghan journalist said.
Hedayatullah Paktin, journalist and political writer, said that most houses in the region are built in the traditional style, with the use of soil, stone and other materials, adding that concrete houses are rare.
Unfortunately, the quake hits at a time when Afghanistan is already suffering an economic crisis, with little access to basic needs and medical facilities, Paktin told Al Jazeera from Kabul.
Strong jolts felt in Pakistan, Iran
Tremors could be felt in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. However, there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in the two countries.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department said the quake jolted parts of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, according to the Dawn news website, which added that there was no immediate news of deaths or damage.
Some remote areas of Pakistan saw reports of damage to homes near the Afghan border, but it was not immediately clear if that was due to the earthquake, said Taimoor Khan, a disaster management spokesperson in the area.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif in a statement offered his condolences over the earthquake, saying his nation will provide help to the Afghan people.
A country already in shock
The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been enduring a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over in August last year, as US-led international forces withdrew after two decades of occupation.
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.
Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund convened an emergency meeting at the Presidential Palace to coordinate the relief effort for victims.
The UN resident coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, expressed condolences to the victims and said that the world body’s agencies were responding to the earthquake’s devastation.
“Response is on its way,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mountainous Afghanistan and the larger region of South Asia along the Hindu Kush mountains, where the Indian tectonic plate collides with the Eurasian plate to the north, have 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 magnitude 6.1 earthquake in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, a magnitude 6.1 earthquake and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people.