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At least 1,000 dead in Afghanistan tremors amid fears death toll will rise – Asia Pacific News News – Report by AFR

A powerful earthquake struck a remote border region of Afghanistan overnight, killing at least 1,000 people and injuring 1,500 others, officials said on Wednesday.

The 5.9-magnitude tremor hit the rugged east hardest, where people are already struggling to survive in the grip of a humanitarian crisis that has worsened since 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 have died in that province alone.

He said more than 1,500 people were injured, many seriously.

“People are still trapped under the rubble,” he told reporters.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the global organization was “fully mobilized” to help, with UN officials confirming the dispatch of health teams and shipments of medicines, food, trauma kits and emergency shelter to the earthquake zone.

The death toll rose steadily on Wednesday as news of casualties poured in from hard-to-reach areas in the mountains, and the country’s top leader Hibatullah Akhundzada warned it was likely to keep rising.

The earthquake struck areas already suffering the effects of heavy rains, causing rockfalls and mudslides that hampered rescue efforts.

“It was a terrible situation,” said Arup Khan, 22, who is recovering at a hospital in Paktika’s provincial capital, Sharan.

“There were screams everywhere. The children and my family were under the mud.”

– ‘Tell situation’ –

Sharan Hospital director Mohammad Yahya Wiar said they were doing their best to treat everyone.

“Our country is poor and has no resources,” he told AFP news agency. “This is a humanitarian crisis. It’s like a tsunami.”

Photos and videos posted to social media showed scores of badly damaged homes in remote areas. United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov told reporters that nearly 2,000 homes are likely to be destroyed.

Footage released by the Taliban showed residents of a village digging a long trench to bury the dead, who according to Islamic tradition were to be buried facing Mecca.

The catastrophe poses a major challenge for the Taliban, who have largely isolated the country through their hard-line Islamist policies – particularly the subjugation of women and girls.

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

However, with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters remaining since their return to power, any immediate response to the recent disaster is further limited.

“The government is working to the best of its ability,” tweeted Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official.

“We hope that the international community and aid organizations will also help our people in this dire situation.”

– offers of help –

The United States, whose troops helped overthrow the original Taliban regime and stayed in Afghanistan for two decades until Washington pulled them out last year, is “deeply saddened” by the earthquake, the White House said.

“President Biden is monitoring developments and has directed USAID (US Agency for International Development) and other federal government partners to review U.S. response options to assist those most affected,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

The United Nations and the European Union quickly offered help.

“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 said on Twitter.

UN chief Guterres expressed his condolences, noting how the tragedy is affecting a nation mired in multiple crises.

“My heart goes out to the people of Afghanistan who are already reeling from the effects of years of conflict, economic hardship and famine,” he said in a statement.

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 affected people and communities.”

Neighbor Pakistan, where officials said one person was killed in the quake, said it would send emergency aid – including tents – across the border.

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

Dozens of people died in January when two earthquakes struck the western province of Badghis.

In 2015, more than 380 people were killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck both countries.

Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in recent memory killed 5,000 people in May 1998 in the northeastern provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.

Pope Francis spoke from the Vatican prayers for the victims of the recent quake.

“I express my solidarity with the injured and those affected,” said the 85-year-old Pope at the end of his weekly audience.

Wednesday’s quake struck around 1:30 a.m. at a depth of 10 kilometers (six miles), about 47 kilometers southwest of Khost, according to the United States Geological Survey.

It was felt as far away as Lahore, Pakistan, 480 kilometers from the epicenter.

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