Collapsed mud houses are seen following an earthquake in Paktika province, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. AFP / AP
Gulf Today Report
Desperate rescuers battled against the clock Thursday under pouring rain to pull survivors from the rubble after a powerful quake struck a mountainous border region of Afghanistan, killing at least 1,000 people.
The 5.9-magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged east, where people already lead hardscrabble lives in the grip of a humanitarian crisis made worse since the Taliban takeover in August.
"People are digging grave after grave," said Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in hard-hit Paktika, adding that at least 1,000 people had died in that province alone.
He said more than 1,500 people were injured, many critically.
"People are still trapped under the rubble," he told journalists.
The earthquake struck areas that were already suffering the effects of heavy rain, causing rockfalls and mudslides that hampered rescue efforts.
"It was a horrible situation," said Arup Khan, 22, recovering at a hospital in Paktika's provincial capital Sharan.
"There were cries everywhere. The children and my family were under the mud."
Afghans look at destruction caused by an earthquake in the province of Paktika. AP
In a statement, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan announced that the province would send medical teams to Paktika province. Helicopters were deployed in the rescue effort to reach the injured and fly in medical supplies and food, interior ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi said.
"People are digging grave after grave," said Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in hard-hit Paktika, adding that at least 1,000 people had died in that province alone. He said more than 1,500 people were injured, many critically.
Afghan children site near their damaged house that was destroyed in an earthquake in Khost province. AP
"People are still trapped under the rubble," he told journalists. The earthquake struck areas that were already suffering the effects of heavy rain, causing rockfalls and mudslides that hampered rescue efforts.
"It was a horrible situation," said Arup Khan, 22, recovering at a hospital in the Paktika provincial capital of Sharan. "There were cries everywhere. The children and my family were under the mud."
Photographs and video clips posted on social media showed scores of badly damaged houses in remote rural areas.
Afghan villagers sit outside a tent after their house was damaged in an earthquake in Spera District. AP
"The government is working within its capabilities," tweeted Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official. "We hope that the International Community & aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation."
The United States on Wednesday expressed sorrow over a devastating earthquake in Afghanistan and said it would look for ways to help, including through potential talks with Taliban rulers.
"The United States is deeply saddened to see the devastating earthquake that took the lives of at least 1,000 people in Afghanistan," said Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden's national security advisor.
"President Biden is monitoring developments and has directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess US response options to help those most affected," he said, referring to the US Agency for International Development.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States was in touch with humanitarian groups active in Afghanistan that receive support from Washington.
"US humanitarian partners are already responding, including by sending medical teams to help people affected, and we are assessing other response options," Blinken said in a statement.
People carry injured to a helicopter following a massive earthquake in Paktika. Reuters
The UN and European Union were quick to offer assistance. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the United Nations was fully mobilised, assessing the needs and providing initial support. "We count on the international community to help support the hundreds of families hit by this latest disaster. Now is the time for solidarity," he said in a statement.
"Inter-agency assessment teams have already been deployed to a number of affected areas," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Afghanistan said on Twitter. From the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for victims of the latest quake. "I express my closeness with the injured and those who were affected," the pontiff said at the end of his weekly audience.
"It was a horrible situation," recalls Arup Khan, 22, talking of the moments after the quake. "There were cries everywhere. The children and my family were under the mud."
It is the time for the UN, European Union and the neighbouring countries to offer quick assistance to the survivors who had lost their property and close family members in the tragic event.
According to the national seismology service the quake hit at a shallow depth of 19km beneath the epicenter near Ometepec, Guerrero, Mexico, in the evening on Friday 19 March 2021 at 9:06 pm local time.
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