“There is great chaos everywhere. I counted a hundred bodies in an hour,” reports a journalist from the mountainous region on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, after a devastating earthquake startled residents early Wednesday morning.
The authorities reported at least 1,000 dead and 1,500 injured on Wednesday, according to the state news agency Bakhtar. The area, which is difficult to access, made rescue work difficult, and cell phone reception is also poor.
“The horror is great. Parents cannot find their children and children cannot find their parents. Everyone wonders who is dead and who is alive. The houses are made of mud, and that’s why they were all destroyed by the strong tremors,” continues journalist Rahim Chan Chushal from the site of the destruction. “Even those who are physically well are scared.”
The Taliban leadership expressed its sympathy and condolences to the victims. According to the UN emergency relief office OCHA, up to 1800 houses were destroyed. Afghan media reported that one village had been completely destroyed. Many animals also died. The construction in the poor and economically weak region is not earthquake-proof for cost reasons, many families live close together.
Meanwhile, civil protection fears an even higher number of victims. The rescue work was made more difficult by the access to the remote mountain region. The militant Islamist Taliban, who have ruled Afghanistan again since August 2021, called an emergency cabinet meeting.
Several helicopters were sent to the disaster area to help local people. A government spokesman called on aid organizations for support. Helpers from the Red Crescent arrived on Wednesday.
The US earthquake monitoring station (USGS) reported a magnitude of 5.9 for the quake and a slightly weaker aftershock. Accordingly, the center of the earthquake was around 50 kilometers southwest of the city of Khost near the border with Pakistan at a depth of around ten kilometers. Pakistani authorities registered the earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1.
According to Pakistani information, the tremors were felt in large parts of the neighboring country – including in the capital Islamabad and even in Lahore in the east of the country. Panic broke out in some places, but according to initial information, nothing was known about damage or injuries in Pakistan. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed his dismay on the Internet and promised help for the people in the neighboring country.
Pope Francis prayed for the victims in Rome. “I express my closeness to the injured and those affected by the earthquake,” said the head of the Catholic Church on Wednesday at the end of the general audience in front of believers and visitors in St. Peter’s Square. The 85-year-old said he prayed especially for those who lost their lives and for their families.