At least 920 dead after 6.1-magnitude quake hits Afghanistan

The Guardian
The Guardian

A powerful earthquake in a remote area of Afghanistan’s Paktika province has killed at least 920 people with the death toll expected rise in the impoverished country.

According to Taliban officials, hundreds more were injured in what appears to be the deadliest quake in two decades which struck during the night.

Footage from Paktika showed people being carried into helicopters to be airlifted from the area. Others were treated on the ground. One resident could be seen receiving IV fluids while sitting in a plastic chair outside the rubble of his home and still more were sprawled on stretchers.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesperson for the Taliban government called for aid agencies to assist with the emergency efforts. “We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further catastrophe,” he said.

In response, the UN and EU were quick to offer help.

“Inter-agency assessment teams have already been deployed to a number of affected areas,” tweeted the UN office for humanitarian affairs in Afghanistan.

Tomas Niklasson, the 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.”

With photographs from the area showing collapsed houses and bodies being dug out of the rubble, a tribal leader from Paktika province, Yaqub Manzor, 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,” Manzor told the AFP news agency by telephone.

The Afghan prime minister, Mohammad Hassan Akhund, convened an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate the relief effort for victims in Paktika and Khost, a neighbouring province.

Earlier, Abdul Wahid Rayan, the director general of the Bakthar news agency, said the areas hit by the earthquake were in mountainous regions, meaning rescue work required helicopters.

But he added: “Afghanistan has a shortage of helicopters and these areas being hard to access is making relief work difficult.”

Rayan said 90 houses had been destroyed in Gayan, a district in the north of Paktika.

The centre of the earthquake – estimated to have had a magnitude of 6.1 by Pakistan and 5.9 by the US Geological Survey – occurred 30 miles south-west of the city of Khost. It occurred at the relatively shallow depth of six miles, worsening its impact.

Tremors were noticed in neighbouring countries, with “strong and long jolts” felt in the Afghan capital, Kabul, according to a resident who posted on the website of the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.

Map showing affected provinces.

Deaths were also reported in the eastern provinces of Khost and Nangarhar, said Mohammad Nassim Haqqani, the head of the Afghan disaster-response authority.

Rescue efforts are likely to be complicated since many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban took control last year and the chaotic withdrawal of the US military from the longest war in its history. Rescuers rushed to the area by helicopter.

The death toll, given by Afghan emergency official Mawlawi Sharafuddin Muslim, made it the deadliest quake since 2002, when a 6.1-magnitude tremor killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan, immediately after the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban government after the 9/11 attacks.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, offered his condolences over the earthquake in a statement, saying his nation would provide help to the Afghan people. At the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for all those killed and injured and for the “suffering of the dear Afghan population”.

Afghanistan and the larger region of south Asia along the Hindu Kush mountains has long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes.

The disaster comes as Afghanistan grapples with a severe economic crisis that has gripped it since the Taliban takeover.

In response to the new regime, many nations imposed sanctions on Afghanistan’s banking sector and cut billions of dollars worth of development aid. Humanitarian aid has continued, however, with international agencies, such as the UN, still operating.

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Gwydion Silverhawk

I guess Biden will now be sending the Taliban billions in aid.


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