Afghan authorities struggled on Thursday to reach a remote area hit by an earthquake that killed some 1,000 people but poor communications and a lack of proper roads hampered their efforts, officials said, as the country’s supreme leader pleaded with the international community for help.
The magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck early on Wednesday about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kabul, in arid mountains dotted with small settlements near the border with Pakistan. It struck areas that were already suffering the effects of heavy rain, causing rockfalls and mudslides that hampered rescue efforts.
“We can’t reach the area, the networks are too weak, we’re trying to get updates,” Mohammad Ismail Muawiyah, spokesman for the top Taliban military commander in hardest-hit Paktika province, told Reuters, referring to telephone networks.
The earthquake killed some 1,000 people and injured 1,500, he said. More than 3,000 houses were destroyed. About 600 people had been rescued from various affected areas on Wednesday night, he added.
‘Entire villages brought to the ground’ in deadly Afghan quake
In a rare move, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, who almost never appears in public, pleaded with the international community and humanitarian organizations “to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort”.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the global agency had “fully mobilized” to help, with UN officials confirming the deployment of health teams and supplies of medicine, food, trauma kits and emergency shelter to the quake zone.
The rescue operation will be a major test for the hard-line Islamist Taliban authorities, who took over the country last August after two decades of war and have been cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions. The Taliban-led ministry of defense is leading rescue efforts.
Afghan, international rescuers scramble to reach earthquake zone
Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s emergency response teams were stretched to deal with the natural disasters that frequently strike the country. But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters left since the Taliban returned to power, any immediate response to the latest catastrophe is further limited.
Afghan media published pictures of houses reduced to rubble and bodies swathed in blankets on the ground in the hours after the quake struck. Accurate information has been limited from remote mountain villages.
The town of Gayan, close to the epicentre, sustained significant damage with most of its mud-walled buildings damaged or completely collapsed, a Reuters team said.
The town was bustling with Taliban soldiers and ambulances as a helicopter bringing in relief supplies landed nearby, whipping up huge swirls of dust. About 300 people sat on the ground waiting for supplies.
Large parts of South Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate is pushing north into the Eurasian plate.
An earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast in 2015, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan. A 6.1 magnitude quake killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan in 2002. And a 6.1 magnitude quake and subsequent tremors in northeast Afghanistan in 1998 killed at least 4,500 people.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)
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