Afghan quake kills at least 920; toll expected to rise

Afghan quake kills at least 920; toll expected to rise

KABUL, June 22 (Reuters) – A 6.1-magnitude earthquake killed 920 people in Afghanistan early on Wednesday, disaster management officials said, with more than 600 injured and the death toll expected to rise as information arrives from remote mountain villages.

Photographs in the Afghan media showed houses reduced to rubble, with bodies wrapped in blankets lying on the ground.

Helicopters were deployed in the rescue effort to reach the wounded and transport medical supplies and food, an Interior Ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi said.

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“The death toll is likely to rise as some of the villages are in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to gather details.”

Wednesday’s quake was the deadliest since 2002. It struck about 44 km (27 miles) from the southeastern city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, the US Geological Survey (USGC) said.

Most of the confirmed deaths were in the eastern province of Paktika, where 255 people were killed and more than 200 injured, Ayubi added. In Khost province, 25 died and 90 were taken to hospital.

Haibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the ruling Taliban, offered his condolences in a statement.

Mounting a rescue operation could be a major test for the Taliban, who took over the country in August and have been deprived of much international assistance due to sanctions.

Some 119 million people felt the tremor in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the EMSC said on Twitter, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in Pakistan.

The EMSC put the magnitude of the quake at 6.1, although the USGC said it was 5.9.

Adding to the challenge for Afghan authorities are recent floods in many regions, which the disaster agency says have killed 11 people, injured 50 and blocked stretches of highway.

The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been facing a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took power, as US-led international forces withdrew after two decades of war.

In response to the Taliban’s takeover, many nations have imposed sanctions on Afghanistan’s banking sector and cut billions of dollars in development aid.

However, humanitarian aid has continued with the operation of international organizations, such as the United Nations.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said Afghanistan had asked humanitarian agencies to help with rescue efforts and teams were being sent to the quake-hit area.

A spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry said it would welcome international help. Neighboring Pakistan said he was working to extend assistance.

Large parts of South Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate is pushing north toward the Eurasian plate. read more

In 2015, an earthquake rocked remote northeast Afghanistan, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and near-north Pakistan.

In January, an earthquake rocked western Afghanistan, killing more than 20 people.

(This story corrects the death toll to 920, not 950)

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Reporting from Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru and Mohammad Yunus Yawar in Kabul and Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Additional reporting by Alasdair Pal in Delhi; Written by Charlotte Greenfield; Edited by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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