At least 1,000 people have died and another 1,500 were injured in an earthquake that struck Afghanistan’s Paktika province on Wednesday morning, officials said, almost quadrupling the death toll from earlier in the day.
The quake struck about 44km (27 miles) from the city of Khost in southeastern Afghanistan at a depth of 51km, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).
Mohammad Nassim Haqqani, head of the Taliban administration’s natural disaster ministry, said earlier that the majority of deaths were in the province of Paktika.
Interior ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi said that most of the deaths were in the province of Paktika, where over 250 people had been killed and another 200 injured, reported Geo News.
He added that in Khost province, 25 people had been killed and 90 taken to hospital.
Authorities said they expected the death toll to rise further as search and rescue operations continue. "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 collect details,” Mr Ayubi said.
Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, wrote on Twiter: “A severe earthquake shook four districts of Paktika province, killing and injuring hundreds of our countrymen and destroying dozens of houses.
“We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further catastrophe.”
Rescue workers were arriving at the site by helicopter, reported the state-run Bakhtar news agency. But activists said the Taliban government in Afghanistan faced a challenge conducting effective rescue operations and rehabilitation, due to both the mountainous geography of the area affected and the country's deep economic crisis.
"It's going to be a risky operation, there are efforts from the Afghanistan government and international organisations but this is not sufficient for the people in this situation," local activist Hidayatullah Paktin told The Independent.
"On top of rescue operations, there is a rain problem, there is no food or shelter for many," he adds. "Afghanistan is already suffering from a critical economic crisis. There are international sanctions and a large part of the population is suffering under poverty."
Mr Paktin said the population impacted by the earthquake is also the one suffering the most from poverty.
The isolated mountainous region of Paktika, where the earthquake occurred, was full of traditional-style houses made of soil and concrete which were already damaged due to monsoon rains, he explains.
"The region has a population of very poor people who do not have modern-style homes," he said.
Photos and videos also showed people being rescued from the rubble in stretchers.
“Every street you go, you hear people mourning the deaths of their beloved ones. Houses are ruined,” a local journalist in Paktika province told BBC News.
“Many people are not aware of the well-being of their relatives because their phones are not working,” another local journalist was quoted as saying. “My brother and his family died, and I just learned it after many hours. Many villages have been destroyed.”
Residents said that the impact of the quake destroyed houses and immediately led to deaths and injuries all around.
A local named Fatima said: “The kids and I screamed. One of our rooms was destroyed. Our neighbours screamed and we saw everyone’s rooms.”
"It destroyed the houses of our neighbours," local resident Faisal said. "When we arrived there were many dead and wounded. They sent us to the hospital. I also saw many dead bodies."
Tremors from the powerful earthquake were felt across over 500km in areas including in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said in a tweet.
There were reports of damage to homes in some remote areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border, but it was not immediately clear if that was due to rain or the earthquake, according to Taimoor Khan, a disaster management spokesperson in the area.
Pakistan’s Meteorological Department also measured the earthquake at a magnitude of 6.1 as tremors were felt as far as the capital Islamabad and elsewhere in the eastern Punjab province.
In a statement, Pakistan’s prime minister Shehbaz Sharif offered his condolences and said that assistance is being provided to Afghanistan.
“Deeply grieved to learn about earthquake in Afghanistan, resulting in loss of innocent lives. People in Pakistan share the grief & sorrow of their Afghan brethren. Relevant authorities working to support Afghanistan in this time of need,” he said in a tweet.
The mountainous regions of Afghanistan have been prone to earthquakes where the Indian tectonic plate collides with the Eurasian plate to the north.
Deeply grieved to learn about earthquake in Afghanistan, resulting in loss of innocent lives. People in Pakistan share the grief & sorrow of their Afghan brethren. Relevant authorities working to support Afghanistan in this time of need.
— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) June 22, 2022
Over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighboring northern Pakistan were killed in 2015 when a devastating earthquake struck Afghanistan’s northeast.
In 2002 around 1,000 people were killed in northern Afghanistan by a 6.1-magnitude earthquake.
And another 6.1-magnitude earthquake, as well as subsequent tremors, in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people in 1998.
Wednesday’s earthquake comes as Afghanistan reels under severe economic stress after the US withdrew its forces and the Taliban took control of the country last August.