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Earthquake kills more than 900 people in Afghanistan

The quake struck about 44 km (27 miles) from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, at a depth of 51 km, the U.S. Geological Survey said

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An earthquake of magnitude 6.1 killed at least 950 people in Afghanistan early on Wednesday, officials said, adding that hundreds of people were injured and the toll was likely to rise as information trickled in from remote mountain villages.

“So far the information we have is that at least 920 people have been martyred and 600 injured,” Sharafuddin Muslim, the country’s deputy minister for disaster management, told a press conference.

The quake struck about 44 km (27 miles) from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, at a depth of 51 km, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Tremors were felt in the northern and upper regions of Pakistan, including Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Kohat, Swat, Rawalpindi, Buner, Pakpattan and Mianwali.

“It was strong,” said a resident of Peshawar.

“Strong and long jolts,” a resident of the Afghan capital, Kabul, posted on the website of the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC).

Read more: Earthquake jolts Pakistan, Mirpur, AJK, hit hard

Shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the EMSC said on Twitter.

Photographs on Afghan media showed houses reduced to rubble.

The head of the Taliban administration’s natural disaster ministry, Mohammad Nassim Haqqani, said the majority of deaths were in the province of Paktika, where 255 people were killed and 250 injured.

Another 25 people were killed in Khost and five in Nangarhar province, he said, adding that investigations were being conducted to determine if there were more casualties.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in Pakistan.

The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been enduring a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over August, as U.S.-led international forces were withdrawing after two decades of war.

In response to the Taliban takeover, many governments have imposed sanctions on Afghanistan’s banking sector and cut billions of dollars worth of development aid.

Humanitarian aid has continued and international agencies such as the United Nations operate in the country. An Afghan foreign ministry spokesman said they would welcome help from any international organisation.

Read more: Why is there an increase in natural disasters worldwide?

Large parts of south Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate is pushing north into the Eurasian plate. In 2015, an earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said that relevant authorities are working to support Afghanistan in this time of need.

“Deeply grieved to learn about earthquake in Afghanistan, resulting in loss of innocent lives. People in Pakistan share the grief and sorrow of their Afghan brethren,” he tweeted.

In a statement, the Foreign Office (FO) said that Pakistan extends its deepest condolences and sympathies over the loss of precious lives and damage to property caused by earthquake in Paktika province of Afghanistan and its adjoining areas, and torrential floods in various provinces across the country.

The FO said that Pakistan stands in strong solidarity with their Afghan brethren and has no doubt that the brotherly Afghan people will overcome the effects of this natural calamity with their characteristic resilience.

Read more: How international engagement with Taliban can prevent humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan?

“Our authorities and institutions are working to extend required assistance to Afghanistan in coordination with their relevant institutions,” FO said.

Reuters with additional input by GVS News Desk