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  22 Jun 2022, 11:37
Update : 22 Jun 2022, 18:19

At least 1,000 killed in Afghan quake as rescuers scramble for survivors

ZURMAT, Afghanistan, June 22, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - A powerful earthquake struck a 
remote border region of Afghanistan overnight killing at least 1,000 people 
and injuring hundreds more, officials said Wednesday, with the toll expected 
to rise as desperate rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings.

The 5.9 magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged east, where people 
already lead hardscrabble lives in a country in the grip of a humanitarian 
disaster made worse by the Taliban takeover in August.

"People are digging grave after grave," said Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of 
the Information and Culture Department in hard-hit Paktika, adding that at 
least 1,000 people had died in that province alone.

"It is raining also, and all houses are destroyed. People are still trapped 
under the rubble," he told journalists.

The death toll climbed steadily all day as news of casualties filtered in 
from hard-to-reach areas in the mountains, and the country's supreme leader, 
Hibatullah Akhundzada, warned it would likely rise further.

Earlier, a tribal leader from Paktika said survivors and rescuers were 
scrambling to help those affected.

"The local markets are closed and all the people have rushed to the affected 
areas," Yaqub Manzor told AFP by telephone.

Photographs and video clips posted on social media showed scores of badly 
damaged mud houses in remote rural areas.

Some footage showed local residents loading victims into a military 
helicopter.

- Offers of help -

Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan's emergency response teams were 
stretched to deal with the natural disasters that frequently struck the 
country.

But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters left since the 
hardline Islamists returned to power, any immediate response to the latest 
catastrophe is further limited.

"The government is working within its capabilities," tweeted Anas Haqqani, a 
senior Taliban official.

"We hope that the International Community & aid agencies will also help our 
people in this dire situation."

The United Nations and European Union were quick to offer assistance.

"Inter-agency assessment teams have already been deployed to a number of 
affected areas," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 
(UNOCHA) in Afghanistan tweeted.

Tomas Niklasson, EU special envoy for Afghanistan, tweeted: "The EU is 
monitoring the situation and stands ready to coordinate and provide EU 
emergency assistance to people and communities affected."

Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes -- especially in the Hindu Kush 
mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian 
tectonic plates.

Scores of people were killed and injured in January when two quakes struck 
rural areas in the western province of Badghis, damaging hundreds of 
buildings.

In 2015, more than 380 people were killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan when a 
7.5-magnitude earthquake ripped across the two countries, with the bulk of 
the deaths in Pakistan.

From the Vatican City, Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims of the 
latest quake.

"I express my closeness with the injured and those who were affected," the 
85-year-old pontiff said at the end of his weekly audience.

Aid agencies and the United Nations say Afghanistan needs billions of dollars 
this year to tackle its ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Aid agencies have particularly stressed the need for greater disaster 
preparedness in Afghanistan, which remains extremely susceptible to recurring 
earthquakes, floods and landslides.

The quake was felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan, 480 kilometres (300 
miles) from the epicentre, according to responses posted on the USGS and 
European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) websites.
 

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