KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) – A powerful earthquake struck a rugged, mountainous region in eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday morning, flattening stone and brick homes and killing at least 1,000 people in the country’s deadliest earthquake in two decades. , the state news agency reported. mentioned.
An estimated 1,500 more were reported injured, and officials said the death toll could rise.
The disaster triggered by the 6.1-magnitude earthquake posed a major test for the Afghan Taliban government, which regained power nearly 10 months ago as the United States and its NATO allies pulled out of the country and has been largely ignored by the world since.
In a rare move, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadeh, who has almost never appeared in public, appealed to the international community and humanitarian organizations to “help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and spare no effort to help those affected.”
Residents of a remote area near the Pakistani border searched for victims, living or dead, by digging with their bare hands among the rubble, Bakhtar News Agency showed. It was not immediately clear whether heavy rescue equipment had been sent or even if it could reach the area.
At least 2,000 homes have been destroyed in the area, with an average of seven or eight people living in each home, said Ramez Alakbarov, deputy special representative of the United Nations in Afghanistan.
The full extent of the destruction among the villages tucked into the mountains was slow to emerge. Filled roads – difficult to pass at the best of times – may have been badly damaged, and landslides from recent rains have made them more difficult to access.
Rescuers rushed by helicopter, but relief efforts could be hampered by the mass exodus of many international aid agencies from Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power last August. Moreover, most governments are wary of dealing directly with the Taliban.
Referring to the muddled business between the Taliban and the rest of the world, Akbarov said the Taliban had not formally asked the United Nations to mobilize international search and rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighboring countries to supplement a few dozen ambulances and several ambulances. Helicopters sent by the Afghan authorities.
The disaster is exacerbating the misery in Afghanistan, already mired in the depths of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with millions facing growing hunger and poverty after international funding was cut off for the Taliban. This prompted a massive aid program, but to avoid putting money in the hands of the Taliban, the world has channeled funding through the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, a system that may be too slow for the emergency response to the earthquake.
The neighboring Pakistan Meteorological Department said the quake’s epicenter was in Paktika province, about 50 km southwest of the city of Khost. Experts have determined its depth to be only 10 kilometers (6 miles). Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage.
The European Seismological Agency said 119 million people felt the quake more than 500 km away in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Footage from Paktika showed men carrying people in blankets to a waiting helicopter. Other victims were treated on the floor. One person was seen receiving intravenous fluids while sitting on a plastic chair outside the ruins of his home, more still on stretchers. Some photos showed residents picking out mud bricks and other debris. Ceilings and walls collapsed.
The death toll is equal to the number of victims of the 2002 earthquake in northern Afghanistan. It is the deadliest since 1998, when a 6.1-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tremors in the remote northeastern region killed at least 4,500 people.
Wednesday’s earthquake occurred in an area prone to landslides, and many old buildings are likely to collapse.
“The fear is that the casualties will increase more, because a lot of people may be trapped under collapsed buildings,” said Stefano Souza, the Afghan country director of the Italian emergency group for medical aid.
The emergency, which was distributing humanitarian aid in Afghanistan before the disaster, sent seven ambulances and staff to areas close to the quake zone.
Sam Mort, UNICEF’s head of communications in Afghanistan, told Britain’s Sky that UNICEF’s children’s agency has health and nutrition teams in the area and has dispatched truckloads of blankets, tents and other supplies. She added that hospitals in the area were overwhelmed with wounded.
Pakistan said it would send food, tents, blankets and other necessities.
Shelley Thracral said the earthquake “will only add to the massive humanitarian needs in Afghanistan, and all hands need to be on board to make sure we really reduce the suffering that families are experiencing, that women and children are already going through,” a spokesperson for the UN World Food Program in Kabul.
In the capital, Prime Minister Mohamed Hassan Akhund held an emergency meeting at the presidential palace.
“When such a major accident occurs in any country, assistance from other countries is needed,” said Sharafuddin Muslim, Deputy Minister of State for Disaster Management. “It’s very difficult for us to be able to respond to this huge incident.”
This may be difficult given the international isolation of Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban, which was ousted by the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The newly restored government issued a series of decrees restricting the rights of women, girls, and the media in a return to harsh Taliban rule in the late 1990s.
“This adds a lot to the daily burden of survival,” said the UN chief. “We are not optimistic today.”
Associated Press writers Rahim Fayez and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, and John Gambrel and Isabel Debre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.
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