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Earthquake Causes Heavy Casualties, Damage In Afghanistan, Pakistan

  • RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal
  • RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

One of the strongest earthquakes to hit Afghanistan in decades has rocked the country's north, leaving heavy casualties and damage in its wake across South Asia.

Officials said on October 27 that the death toll had reached more than 300, with thousands injured, and was still rising. At least 76 people were reported killed in Afghanistan, while at least 237 were reported dead in neighboring Pakistan. In some cases, rescue efforts were being delayed by mudslides caused by recent heavy rains, preventing access to remote regions.

Twelve Afghan schoolgirls trying to flee their school in Takhar Province were among those who died as a result of the 7.5-magnitude quake and seven strong aftershocks.

Sonatullah Timor, spokesman for the governor of the northern Afghan province, spoke to RFE/RL about the tragedy that unfolded at the school in the provincial capital, Taloqan.

"Most of the girls died in a panic that ensued. No school was damaged in the quake," he said. "However, there was a lot of panic, and, because there is only one exit at a school leading from the second to the ground floor, some of them could have died in the crush."

Timor said that more than 30 schoolgirls had been hospitalized with injuries, some of them serious.

The earthquake, which hit Afghanistan's northern Hindu Kush region, lasted at least one minute and shook buildings in Kabul, Islamabad, and Delhi and sent thousands of people rushing into the streets.

Tremors were felt across Central Asia. Approximately 400 kilometers north of the epicenter, in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported that thousands of residents evacuated buildings.

The service captured video of stunned men and women milling about on the streets and, in one case, of a panicked individual smashing an upper-floor window of a high-rise building in an apparent attempt to escape.

The service reported that 14 children had been injured in Tajikistan's Yovon district when stairs at a local school collapsed.

The quake was also felt by residents of southern Kazakhstan -- in the city of Shymkent and as far as Taraz, 1,000 kilometers north of the epicenter.

Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, who was providing updates on the situation on his official Twitter account, said that the government had requested help from aid agencies and was looking for ways to speed up the delivery of medical help.

In one tweet, he said the earthquake was the strongest one felt in recent memory.

An RFE/RL correspondent in Afghanistan's northern Baghlan Province witnessed several buildings collapse in the regional capital, Puli Khumri. The earthquake disrupted electricity supplies in the region's districts and affected telephone connections.

Officials said 30 people were killed and more than 70 injured in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar Province.

"Some 1,500 homes have also been destroyed," Kunar Governor Wahidullah Kalimzai said on October 26, adding that the earthquake "has caused a lot of devastation" in the province.

The United States, Iran, and other countries offered to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, which already relies heavily on foreign aid due to the widespread damage that decades of war have inflicted on the country's infrastructure and economy.

"Our thoughts are with all those affected by this tragedy in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and throughout the region," U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told a briefing in Washington.

"We applaud the effort of those who are working to bring relief to those in need. The United States is, of course, in touch with governments throughout in the region. We stand ready, as always, to provide assistance at this difficult time," Kirby added.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. Agency for International Development was prepared to provide emergency shelter and relief supply kits to assist those affected by the earthquake.

RFE/RL correspondents in Pakistan report that the earthquake mainly affected the Swat Valley in the country's northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where buildings collapsed in the city of Peshawar and nearby districts. Officials say that the number of killed in Pakistan was at least 60, with dozens of injuries reported.

Communications have been disrupted in many areas affected by the earthquake, making it difficult for officials to assess the full scale of the damage.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that an emergency had been declared in the region, and health workers had been made available to treat victims.

"Of course, we expect that the death toll may go up," he said.

In Indian-controlled Kashmir, an 80-year-old woman died of a heart attack in the southern town of Bijbehara and two Indian Army soldiers were injured when a sentry post collapsed on them in the town of Sopore, local police said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Strong Earthquake Rocks South Asia

The earthquake that hit the area affected by heavy rains for several days also caused landslides, disrupting regular traffic in various parts of Kashmir.

The landslides blocked the main highway connecting Pakistan and China. Karakoram Highway in northern Pakistan has been sealed off at multiple points, local authorities said. The blockage has stranded thousands of travelers and vehicles in remote areas.

Like Afghanistan's Abdullah, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter after the earthquake:

Pakistani state-run media reported that Modi had contacted his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to offer help for the earthquake victims.

Pakistan's information minister, Pervez Rashid, told a news conference that Islamabad would not appeal to the international community for assistance, saying the country possessed the resources to implement rescue and relief efforts.

Rashid said Sharif was returning home following his visit to the United States.

Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

The October 25 earthquake's epicenter was just a few hundred kilometers from the site of a 7.6 magnitude quake that struck in October 2005, killing more than 75,000 people and displacing some 3.5 million more.

With reporting by dpa, Reuters, AFP and