KABUL (AFP, REUTERS) - The death toll from an earthquake in Afghanistan on Wednesday (June 22) continued to mount as information trickled in from remote villages.
Disaster management officials said it had crossed 1,000 with more than 600 injured.
However, local officials put the number of injured higher.
“1,000 dead, 1,500 injured, and this number might go up, many families have been lost. Injured people have been taken to Kabul and Gardez,” Mr Mohammad Amin Hozaifa, information and culture director of the eastern province Paktika, told Reuters.
Most of the confirmed deaths were in Paktika, where 255 people were killed and more than 200 injured, interior ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi said.
In the province of Khost, 25 were dead and 90 had been taken to hospital. Houses were reduced to rubble and bodies swathed in blankets lay on the ground, photographs on Afghan media showed.
Helicopters were deployed in the rescue effort to reach the injured and fly in medical supplies and food, Mr Ayubi said. But bad weather has impeded the efforts.
The quake was the deadliest in Afghanistan since 2002. It struck about 44km from the south-eastern city of Khost, near the border with Pakistan, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.
The BBC reported that it hit at around 1.30am when people slept.
Shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said on Twitter, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in Pakistan.
The EMSC put the earthquake’s magnitude at 6.1, though the USGS said it was 5.9.
Supreme leader of the ruling Taliban Haibatullah Akhundzada offered his condolences in a statement.
Mounting a rescue operation will prove a major test for the Taliban, who took over the country last August and has been cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions.
Afghanistan is also grappling with a severe economic crisis since the US-led international forces withdrew following two decades of war.
Humanitarian aid has continued, however, with international agencies, such as the United Nations (UN), operating.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its first response bulletin that humanitarian partners were preparing to assist affected families in Paktika and Khost provinces, in coordination with the Taliban authorities.
“Immediate needs identified include emergency trauma care, emergency shelter and non-food items, food assistance and Wash (water, sanitation and hygiene) support,” OCHA said. “Given the unseasonable, heavy rains and cold, emergency shelter is an immediate priority.”
OCHA said Taliban authorities had delivered food and emergency tents to some families living in the open but further help was needed.
“The number of casualties is expected to rise as search and rescue operations are ongoing. Humanitarian search and rescue teams... are on standby to deploy as needed.”
The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been enduring a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over in August, as US-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.
Mr Yaqub Manzor, a tribal leader from Paktika province, said survivors were mobilising to help those affected.
"The local markets are closed and all the people have rushed to the affected areas," he told AFP by telephone.
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 north-east, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan.