Powerful quake kills 1,000 in Afghanistan

A powerful earthquake has killed at least 1,000 people and injured 1,500 in eastern Afghanistan, an official of the ruling Taliban told the BBC.

The Taliban appealed for international help for the rescue effort as pictures showed landslides and ruined mud-built homes in the province of Paktika.

The quake struck shortly after 01:30 (21:00 GMT Tuesday) as people slept.

Hundreds of houses were destroyed by the magnitude 6.1 event, which occurred at a depth of 51km (32 miles).

It was the deadliest earthquake to strike Afghanistan in two decades and a major challenge for the Taliban, the Islamist movement which regained power last year after the Western-backed government collapsed.

The earthquake struck about 44km from the city of Khost and tremors were felt as far away as Pakistan and India. Witnesses reported feeling the quake in both Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, and Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

Taliban officials asked the United Nations (UN) to “support them in terms of assessing the needs and responding to those affected”, Sam Mort from United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Kabul unit, told the BBC.

The UK’s special representative to Afghanistan, Nigel Casey, said the UK was in touch with the UN and was “ready to contribute to the international response”.

Earthquakes tend to cause significant damage in Afghanistan, where dwellings in many rural areas were unstable or poorly built.

Speaking to Reuters news agency, locals described horrific scenes of death and destruction in the aftermath of the late-night earthquake.

“The kids and I screamed,” said Fatima. “One of our rooms was destroyed. Our neighbours screamed and we saw everyone’s rooms.”

“It destroyed the houses of our neighbours,” Faisal said. “When we arrived there were many dead and wounded. They sent us to the hospital. I also saw many dead bodies.”

“Every street you go, you hear people mourning the deaths of their beloved ones,” a journalist in Paktika province told the BBC.

Local farmer, Alem Wafa, cried as he told the BBC that official rescue teams had yet to reach the remote village of Gyan – one of the worst hit.

“There are no official aid workers, but people from neighbouring cities and villages came here to rescue people,” he said. “I arrived this morning, and I – myself – found 40 dead bodies.” –Reuters/BBC

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