Darkness put rescue efforts on hold in the mountainous Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which was struck by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake on Monday, with roads destroyed and helicopters unable to fly at night.
The earthquake struck at 1:39pm local time (0909 GMT), its epicentre high in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. By nightfall, at least 130 fatalities had been confirmed. This included 94 in Pakistan, 33 in Afghanistan and three in Indian-administered Kashmir. Casualties are almost sure to rise in the coming days once rescue teams are able to reach areas where roads and communications have been knocked out.
Gul Mohammad Bedar, deputy governor of Badakshan Province, where the epicentre was, told IRIN that mountainsides had collapsed, making the worst-hit areas inaccessible. Convoys of trucks carrying food and medical supplies would try to reach stricken communities in the morning, he said, adding that he had requested helicopters from the central government in Kabul to get to areas where overland access was impossible.
Bedar said initial reports indicated that at least 1,400 homes in the province had been destroyed or damaged and 13 people killed. “But the death toll and destruction could be much higher,” he warned.
In neighbouring Takhar Province, 12 girls were killed and dozens more injured while trying to escape their high school. Mohammad Hafiz Safi, the province’s director of health, told IRIN that the girls were on the fourth floor of the school when the quake struck and that some of them were caught in a stampede and fell from the staircase as they tried to flee.
Khan Mohammad Khan, a local resident in Kunar Province, told IRIN that a rooftop collapsed on 18 members of the same family in the district of Sawkay, leaving eight dead and the other 10 with serious injuries.
Across the border in Pakistan, the National Disaster Management Authority said in a statement that at least 94 people had been killed and more than 200 injured.
Although the death toll was likely to rise, officials said the country had learned from experiences like the massive 2005 Kashmir earthquake that killed at least 73,000 people. There are stocks of emergency supplies placed throughout the country, said Tariq Hayat Khan, an official with the ministry for frontier regions. Response teams equipped with bulldozers will be working to clear the roads once daylight arrives, he told IRIN.
Maryam Bibi, a resident of Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan who lives in a fourth floor flat, described how the whole building began to shake. She and her family ran down the stairs as plaster crumbled off the walls.
"There is mayhem outside,” she told IRIN on Monday afternoon. “Everyone is on the streets and nobody knows what to do. Those with private vehicles are taking the injured to hospitals on their own."
By late afternoon, officials had counted 38 people killed and 400 injured in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which borders Afghanistan, according to Latif Khan, a spokesman for the Provincial Disaster Management Authority.
“The casualties are rising,” he told IRIN. “Hospitals in smaller areas will quickly be overwhelmed."
The shockwaves were felt as far south as India, though officials at the National Disaster Management Authority said the damage there was minimal. Cracks appeared in walls in Srinagar, the capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, where three fatalities were reported, two of them elderly women.
At least four aftershocks shook Afghanistan as the government planned its response.
The country’s Chief Executive Officer, Abdullah Abdullah, met with telecommunications companies to discuss repairing telephone networks, and President Ashraf Ghani briefed Indian President Narendra Modi, who said on Twitter that his government was ready to provide assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The United Nations said it was “mobilising emergency stocks as a preparatory measure in case support is required” in Pakistan.
As night fell on Badakshan, residents hoped that the morning would bring relief. “Tomorrow we will have an emergency meeting,” Provincial Council head Abdullah Naji Nazari told IRIN. “We want the central government to send food, medicine and blankets urgently.”
(Additional reporting by Nimisha Jaiswal in DELHI and Eleanor Weber-Ballard in LONDON, Edited by Jared Ferrie)
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