A POWERFUL earthquake struck a rural, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early on Wednesday, killing 1,000 people and injuring 1,500 more in one of the deadliest temblors in decades, the state-run news agency reported. Officials warned that the already grim toll may still rise.
Information remained scarce on the magnitude 6.1 temblor near the Pakistani border, but quakes of that strength can cause severe damage in an area where homes and other buildings are poorly constructed and landslides are common. Experts put the depth at just 10 kilometers — another factor that could lead to severe destruction.
The disaster posed a major test for the Taliban-led Government, which seized power last year as the US planned to pull out from the country and end its longest war, two decades after toppling the same insurgents in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Rescuers rushed to the area by helicopter on Wednesday, but the response is likely to be complicated since many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.
Reaching rural areas even in the best circumstances remains difficult in Afghanistan, a landlocked nation just smaller than Texas with rutted mountain roadways that may now have sustained significant damage.
Neighboring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said the quake’s epicentre was in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, some 50 kilometers south-west of the city of Khost. Buildings were also damaged in Khost province, and tremors were felt some 375 kilometers away in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
Footage from Paktika showed men carrying people in blankets to waiting helicopters. 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 gurneys.
Some images showed residents picking through clay bricks and other rubble from destroyed stone houses, some of whose roofs or walls had caved in.
The death toll given by the Bakhtar News Agency was equal to that of a quake in 2002 in northern Afghanistan. Those are the deadliest since 1998, when a 6.1 magnitude temblor and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people. In most places in the world, an earthquake of that magnitude wouldn’t inflict such extensive devastation, said Robert Sanders, a seismologist with the US Geological Survey.
But a quake’s death toll more often comes down to geography, building quality and population density.
“Because of the mountainous area, there are rockslides and landslides that we won’t know about until later reporting. Older buildings are likely to crumble and fail,” he said.