Afghanistan-Pakistan earthquake death toll exceeds 300

Rescuers arrive as thousands spend night outdoors in fear of aftershocks, say reports

In the Lower Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan's northwest, residents clear rubble from houses destroyed by earthquake, while injured are being treated at hospitals. Video: Reuters


Rescuers are struggling to reach earthquake-stricken regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan as the combined death toll rose above 300.

According to Afghan and Pakistani officials, 237 people died in Pakistan and 74 in Afghanistan in the magnitude-7.5 quake.

It was centred deep beneath the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan’s sparsely populated Badakhshan province bordering Pakistan, Tajikistan and China.

Wais Ahmad Barmak, the Afghan minister for disaster management, said 266 people were also injured in his country.

In Pakistan, authorities say they are struggling to reach remote mountainous quake-affected areas.

The army used helicopters today to transport supplies to the victims and military engineers were trying to restore communication lines disrupted by landslides triggered by the earthquake. Thousands of homes have also been damaged.

Thousands spent the night outdoors in near-freezing temperatures reluctant to go back inside for fear of aftershocks, Pakistani media reported.

“Rescue work is ongoing, and tents, blankets and sleeping mats are being provided,” said Latif ur Rehman, a Pakistani disaster management official.

Pakistan’s military and civilian authorities dispatched several helicopters to affected areas to assess damage and run rescue operations, the National Disaster Management Authority said. Landslides in mountainous northern Pakistan over the weekend caused by heavy rain and snow had already left thousands of tourists stranded.

The earthquake struck almost exactly six months after Nepal suffered its worst quake on record on April 25. Including the toll from a major aftershock in May, 9,000 people lost their lives there and 900,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

Death toll

The death toll could climb in coming days because communications were down in much of the rugged Hindu Kush mountain range where the quake was centred.

The initial magnitude 7.5 quake on Monday afternoon was followed by seven aftershocks, measuring as high as magnitude 4.8, according to the US Geological Survey. The latest aftershock came just before dawn on Tuesday.

The United States and Iran were among countries that offered to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, which already depends heavily on foreign aid after decades of war that have wrecked its economy and infrastructure.

The quake was 213 km deep and centred 254 km northeast of Kabul.

Dr John Ebel, chairman of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Boston College in the United States, said the depth of the earthquake had limited its severity and meant damage was likely to be spread broadly rather than focused in one disaster zone.

But he said landslides on the unstable slopes of the mountainous region could pose a major problem.

“Obviously if a landslide comes into a village, it will take out buildings, but landslides can also take out roads and communications and power systems, so you lose the ability to access remote areas,” he said.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US Agency for International Development was ready to provide emergency shelter and relief supply kits.

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in London en route from an official visit to the US, said he would personally oversee the rescue efforts.

“We will try our best to deal with this disaster using our own resources,” he said.