Earthquake kills at least 13 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is felt across region

Rescue workers attending to an earthquake victim at a hospital in Swat, in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on March 22, 2023. PHOTO: AFP
People leaving a restaurant after a tremor was felt in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 21, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
People gathering outside their homes in Srinagar, Kashmir, India, after a tremor was felt on March 21, 2023. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KABUL – At least 13 people were killed and more than 90 injured in Pakistan and Afghanistan after a magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck late on Tuesday, government officials said.

At least nine people were killed and 44 injured in north-west Pakistan, a Pakistani government official said, and hospitals in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province were put in a state of emergency overnight.

At least four people were killed and 50 injured in Afghanistan, a Health Ministry official there said.

Houses and buildings in both countries were also damaged, the authorities said.

“It was a terrifying tremor. I had never felt such a tremor before in my life,” Ms Khatera, 50, a resident of Kabul, told AFP after rushing out of her fifth-storey apartment in the Afghan capital.

The quake was felt over an area more than 1,000km wide by some 285 million people in Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre said. 

The epicentre was in the Hindu Kush mountains, about 40km south-east of Jurm village in the sparsely populated north-eastern Afghan province of Badakhshan, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said. 

The quake hit at a considerable depth of 187km, the USGS added.

In Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on the Afghan border, senior provincial official Abdul Basit told Reuters on Wednesday that at least 19 houses were damaged.

Senior government official Shahidullah Khan told AFP that at least 180 people who had minor injuries were taken to hospitals across the province.

Two people, including a child, were killed in Laghman province, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Natural Disaster Management spokesman Shafiullah Rahimi said.

Afghan government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said health centres across the country had been put on high alert.

Kabul residents gathering outside their apartment buildings on March 21, 2023, after a strong earthquake was felt across much of Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India. PHOTO: AFP

Kabul shopkeeper Noor Mohammad Hanifi set up tents in a street for his family to spend the night in.

“Nobody dares to go inside their homes,” Mr Hanifi told AFP as his family, cloaked in blankets, took shelter.

He said he felt dizzy when the quake hit, and initially thought the sensation was due to his just having returned from a long trip. “But when I heard the doors and windows shaking, I realised it was an earthquake.”

In Pakistan, frightened people fled their homes as the tremor hit. “People ran out of their houses and were reciting the Quran,” said an AFP correspondent in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi city.

Retired professor Ikhlaq Kazmi said his entire house in the city started shaking. “The children started shouting that there was an earthquake,” he said. “We all ran out.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered the National Disaster Management Authority to be ready to deal with any emergency.

In Afghanistan, many families were out of their homes celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, when the quake struck.

“I heard people screaming and yelling as they came out into the streets,” said Mr Masieh, who was outside with his family when the tremor hit.

“It’s possible that there could be another tremor so I’m still waiting outside.”

Those indoors quickly left their houses and apartments.

“They just fled without wearing shoes, just carrying their children,” an AFP correspondent said.

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 June 2022, more than 1,000 people were killed and tens of thousands made homeless after a magnitude-5.9 quake – the deadliest in Afghanistan in nearly a quarter of a century – struck the impoverished province of Paktika.

In 2005, at least 73,000 people were killed by a magnitude-7.6 quake that struck northern Pakistan.

Afghanistan is in the grip of a humanitarian disaster made worse by the Taliban takeover of the country in August 2021.

International development funding on which the South Asian country relied dried up after the takeover and assets held abroad were frozen. AFP, REUTERS

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