The humanitarian catastrophe comes at a difficult time for the Taliban-ruled country, which is currently suffering from the pangs of hunger and economic crises.
The shocks struck at 1:24 am Local time on Wednesday (4:54 p.m. ET on Tuesday) is about 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, which lies near the country’s border with Pakistan, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
The quake was recorded at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), according to the US Geological Survey, which put it at the yellow alert level — indicating a relatively local impact.
The Ministry of State for Disaster Management said most of the deaths were in Paktika district in the districts of Gian, Nika, Barmal and Zerok.
The death toll has exceeded 1,000 and at least 1,500 people have been injured “in the Gayan and Barmal districts of Paktika province alone,” Muhammad Amin Hudhaifa, head of media and culture for Paktika province, told CNN in a phone call on Wednesday.
The official expects the number of victims to rise as the search missions and efforts continue.
The disaster management authority in the neighboring province of Khost said that 25 people were killed and several others were injured, and five people were also killed in Nangarhar province.
Pictures from Paktika state, just south of Khost state, show homes reduced to rubble with only a wall or two still standing amid the rubble and broken roof beams.
Najibullah Saeed, an Afghan Water Resources Department expert, said the quake coincided with heavy monsoon rains in the area – making traditional homes, many made of clay and other natural materials, particularly vulnerable to damage.
“The timing of the earthquake (in) the darkness of the night (…) and the shallow depth of 10 kilometers from its epicenter led to a greater number of casualties,” he added.
In a tweet on Wednesday, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said that a medical team and seven helicopters have been dispatched to the area to take the injured to nearby hospitals.
The situation has paralyzed an economy already heavily dependent on aid. In the wake of the US’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, its economy is in free fall with the World Bank predicting in April that “a combination of lower incomes and higher prices has led to a sharp deterioration in family living standards.”
The Taliban held an emergency meeting Today, Wednesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the transportation of the wounded and material assistance for the victims and their families will be organized.
Mujahid said in a tweet on Twitter that Prime Minister Muhammad Hassan Akhund called for the meeting at the country’s presidential palace to direct all concerned agencies to send emergency relief teams to the affected area.
“Measures have also been taken to provide cash aid and treatment,” Mujahid said, adding that “agencies have been instructed to use air and land transport to deliver food, clothes, medicine and other necessities and to transport the wounded.”
The Afghan Deputy Minister of State for Disaster Management, Mawlawi Sharafuddin Muslim, said on Wednesday, “The Islamic Emirate will pay 100,000 Afghanis ($1116.19) to the families of those killed in the earthquake and will pay 50,000 Afghanis ($558.10) to the families of those injured.”
The government also highlighted the need for foreign aid.
“The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan calls for the generous support of all countries, international organizations, individuals and institutions to provide and deliver urgent humanitarian aid,” said a press statement issued by the Afghan diplomatic missions.
The World Health Organization said in a tweet on Wednesday that its teams are on the ground to respond to emergencies, including providing medicines, casualty services and conducting needs assessments.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif offered his condolences and offered his support in a tweet on Twitter on Wednesday. “Very sad to learn more about the earthquake that struck Afghanistan, which resulted in the loss of innocent lives,” he wrote. “The people of Pakistan share their grief and sorrow with their Afghan brothers. The relevant authorities are working to support Afghanistan in this time of need.”
India expressed its “sympathy and condolences to the victims and their families,” according to a tweet by a spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs on Wednesday.
Pope Francis said he was praying “for those who have lost their lives and for their families,” during his weekly reception on Wednesday. “I hope that assistance will be sent there to help all the suffering of the dear Afghan people.”
Afghanistan has a long history of earthquakes, many of which occur in the mountainous Hindu Kush region bordering Pakistan.
CNN’s Hada Messia, Alisa Casey and Martin Guilando contributed to this report.
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