The disaster was a major test for the Taliban-led government, which seized power last year when the US planned to pull out of the country and end its longest war, two decades after the same insurgents invaded the country. aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. †
Rescue workers rushed to the area by helicopter on Wednesday, but the response is likely to be complicated as many international aid organizations left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.
The neighboring Pakistan Meteorological Department said the epicenter of the quake was in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, about 50 kilometers southwest of the city of Khost. Buildings were also damaged in Khost province and the tremors were felt as far as the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
Footage from Paktika showed men carrying people in blankets to waiting helicopters. Others were treated on the ground. One resident was seen receiving IV fluids while sitting in a plastic chair outside the rubble of his home, and more were sprawled on stretchers. Some images showed residents picking through bricks and other debris from ruined stone houses, some of which had collapsed roofs or walls.
The Bakhtar News Agency’s death toll was equal to that of a 2002 earthquake in northern Afghanistan that struck immediately after the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban government. Those are the deadliest since 1998, when a 6.1 magnitude earthquake and subsequent quakes in remote northeast Afghanistan killed at least 4,500 people.
In most places in the world, an earthquake of this magnitude wouldn’t wreak such havoc, said Robert Sanders, a seismologist with the US Geological Survey. But the death toll from an earthquake more often comes down to geography, build quality and population density.
“Because of the mountainous area, there are landslides and landslides that we won’t know about until later. Older buildings are likely to crumble and collapse,” he said. “Because of how compact the area is in that part of the world, we’ve seen similar earthquakes in the past cause significant damage.”
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 trapped under the rubble. The Afghan Red Crescent had sent some 4,000 blankets, 800 tents and 800 kitchen packages to the affected area, he added.
In Kabul, Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund called an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate relief efforts, and Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, wrote on Twitter to urge aid groups to send teams to the area.
The “response is underway,” UN coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, wrote on Twitter.
That could be difficult given the current situation in landlocked Afghanistan. After the Taliban moved across the country in 2021, the US military and its allies withdrew to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul and later withdrew completely. Many international humanitarian organizations followed suit due to security concerns and the Taliban’s poor human rights record.
Since then, the Taliban have worked with Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to relaunch airport operations in Kabul and across the country, but almost all international airlines still avoid the country and aid agencies’ reluctance to divert any money into the Taliban treasury can make flying in supplies and equipment difficult.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif expressed his condolences for the earthquake in a statement and said his country will provide assistance. Pope Francis has prayed at the Vatican for all the dead and injured and for the “suffering of the dear Afghan people”.
In just one district of Khost province, the quake killed at least 25 people and injured more than 95, local officials said.
In some remote areas of Pakistan, there were reports of damage to houses near the Afghan border, but it was not immediately clear whether that was due to rain or the earthquake, said Taimoor Khan, a spokesman for disaster management in the area.
The European seismological agency, EMSC, said the quake’s tremors were felt over 500 kilometers (310 miles) by 119 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Mountainous Afghanistan and the greater region of South Asia along the Hindu Kush Mountains have long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes.