Afghanistan earthquake: At least 1 000 dead after 6,1-magnitude tremor rocks eastern province
An earthquake struck eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, 22 June 2022, killing at least 1 000 people. Information remained scarce on the magnitude 6,1 quake that struck Paktika province but it will likely complicate any relief efforts that the international community has largely left Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover of the country last year, and the chaotic withdrawal of the US military and NATO forces.
Afghan emergency official Sharafuddin Muslim gave the death toll in a news conference Wednesday.
Earlier, the director-general of the state-run Bakhtar news agency, 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.
Bakhtar posted footage of a resident receiving IV fluids from a plastic chair outside the rubble of his home and others sprawled on stretchers. He said Afghanistan Red Cross staff were deployed in the area to help.
“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 head of the UN, António Guterres said the agency had "fully mobilised" over the disaster. Health teams, medical supplies, food and emergency shelters were en route to the quake zone, UN officials said.
But Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of information for Paktika province, said it was proving "very difficult" for rescuers to reach areas "affected by floods because of heavy rains last night".
Rescuers trying to get in from neighbouring regions have also reported weather hindrances. "It's June and the weather shouldn't be like this. We've had hail and snow and it's made things very difficult," Obaidullah Baheer from NGO Save Afghans from Hunger said. "Those roads have never been really developed because of the security situation for the past twenty years, so there are a lot of challenges but hopefully we can get in."
Communication following the quake is difficult because of damage to mobile phone towers and the death toll could rise further still, a local journalist in the area said. "Many people are not aware of the well-being of their relatives because their phones are not working," he said. "My brother and his family died, and I just learned it after many hours. Many villages have been destroyed."
In neighbouring Khost province, authorities believed there are also dozens injured and dead in the earthquake as well, Rayan said.
Neighbouring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department put the earthquake at a magnitude of 6,1. Tremors were felt in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and elsewhere in the eastern Punjab province. Some remote areas of Pakistan saw reports of damage to homes near the Afghan border but it wasn't immediately clear if that was due to rain or the earthquake, said Taimoor Khan, a disaster management spokesperson in the area.
The European seismological agency, EMSC, said the earthquake’s tremors were felt over 500 kilometres by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
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, has long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes. Poor construction for homes, hospitals and other buildings put them at risk of collapse in earthquakes, while landslides remain common across the mountains of Afghanistan.
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 earthquake in 2002 killed about 1 000 people in northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, a 6,1-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4 500 people.
Sources: BBC, Euro News, Associated Press