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Friday, December 09, 2022

At least 1,000 dead in Afghanistan earthquake

KABUL, Afghanistan ( Associated Press) – A powerful earthquake struck a rural, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, killing 1,000 people and injuring another 1,500 in one of the deadliest earthquakes in decades, the state-run news agency reported. Officials have warned that the already grim toll could rise.

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Information remained scarce about the 6.1 magnitude storm near the Pakistani border, but earthquakes of that magnitude could cause severe damage in an area where homes and other buildings are poorly built and landslides are common. Experts set the depth at just 10 kilometers (6 miles) – another factor that could lead to serious destruction.

The disaster was a major test for the Taliban-led government, which took power last year when the US planned to pull out of the country and end its longest war, two decades after the same insurgents in the wake of the 9 / 11 attacks were overturned. .

Rescue workers rushed to the area by helicopter on Wednesday, but the response is likely to be complicated as many international aid agencies have left Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover. Reaching rural areas, even in the best of circumstances, remains difficult in Afghanistan, a country surrounded by land just smaller than Texas, with skewed mountain roads that may now have suffered significant damage.

In light of those problems, a Taliban official asked for international help.

“When such a major incident happens in any country, there is a need for help from other countries,” Sharafuddin Muslim said. “It is very difficult for us to react to this great incident.”

Neighboring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said the quake’s epicenter was in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of the city of Khost. Buildings were also damaged in Khost province, and tremors were felt about 375 kilometers (230 miles) away in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Footage from Paktika showed men carrying people in blankets to waiting helicopters. Others were treated on the ground. One resident could be seen receiving IV fluids while sitting in a plastic chair outside the rubble of his home, and even more spread out on gurneys. Some images show residents plucking through rubble and other rubble from destroyed stone houses, some of which have collapsed roofs or walls.

The death toll from the Bakhtar news agency was equivalent to that of a 2002 earthquake in northern Afghanistan. It is the deadliest since 1998, when a 6.1 magnitude earthquake and subsequent earthquakes in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people.

In most places in the world, an earthquake of that magnitude would not cause such great devastation, said Robert Sanders, a seismologist from the US Geological Survey. But an earthquake’s death toll more often comes down to geography, building quality and population density.

“Due to the mountainous area, there are landslides and landslides that we will not know about until we report later. Older buildings are likely to crumble and fail, ”he said. “Because of how condensed the area is in that part of the world, we have seen in the past that similar earthquakes cause significant damage.”

The Taliban are still trying to reconstitute government ministries that were let down by staff loyal to its previous Western-backed government, and it was not clear how officials turned up at the casualty toll reported by Bakhtar.

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In Kabul, Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund convened an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate the relief effort, and Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, wrote on Twitter to urge aid agencies to send troops to the area. .

The “reaction is on its way,” UN Resident Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov wrote on Twitter.

This can be difficult given the situation in Afghanistan today. After the Taliban swept across the country in 2021, the U.S. military and its allies retreated to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport and later withdrew completely. Many international humanitarian organizations have followed suit due to security concerns and the Taliban’s poor human rights record.

In the time since then, the Taliban has worked with Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to restart airport operations in Kabul and across the country – but almost all international carriers still avoid the country, and reluctance on the part of aid organizations to make any money in the Taliban’s suitcases can make it difficult to fly in supplies and equipment.

However, the Afghan Red Crescent Society sent some 4,000 blankets, 800 tents and 800 kitchen sets to the affected area, according to Bakhtar’s director general, Abdul Wahid Rayan.

The Italian medical aid group Emergency, which is still operating in Afghanistan, said it had sent seven ambulances and personnel to the areas closest to the quake zone.

“The fear is that the casualties will increase further, also because many people could be trapped under collapsed buildings,” said Stefano Sozza, country director for emergencies in Afghanistan. “This latest tragedy can only aggravate the state of fragility and economic and social problems that Afghanistan has been experiencing for months.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has said his nation will provide assistance. At the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed for all those killed and injured and for the “suffering of the dear Afghan people”.

Some remote areas of Pakistan have seen reports of damage to homes near the Afghan border, but it was not immediately clear whether it was due to rain or the earthquake, said Taimoor Khan, a disaster management spokesman in the area.

The European Seismological Agency, EMSC, said the quake’s quake was felt over 500 kilometers (310 miles) by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Mountainous Afghanistan and the greater region of South Asia along the Hindu Kush Mountains have long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes.

Associated Press authors Rahim Faiez and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Jon Gambrell and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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