A powerful earthquake struck a rural and mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border on Wednesday morning, killing at least 920 people and injuring 600 others, authorities said. Officials have warned that the death toll is likely to rise.
Reports remained sparse about the 6.1 magnitude quake that damaged buildings in Khost and Paktika provinces. Rescue efforts are likely to be complicated as many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the country was taken over by the Taliban last year and the chaotic withdrawal of the US military from the longest war of its history.
NBC News has not independently verified the number of people killed.
The nearby Pakistan Meteorological Department said the quake’s epicenter was in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, just across the border and about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of Khost town. Such tremors can cause serious damage, especially in an area like this where houses and other buildings are poorly constructed and landslides are common.
Footage from Paktika province showed people being transported in helicopters to be airlifted out of the area. Others were treated on the ground. One resident could be seen receiving intravenous fluids as he sat in a plastic chair outside the rubble of his home and still others lay on stretchers. Other images showed residents picking up clay bricks and other rubble from destroyed stone houses.
Afghan emergency official Sharafuddin Muslim gave the death toll at a press conference on Wednesday. Earlier, the managing director of state-run Bakhtar news agency, Abdul Wahid Rayan, wrote on Twitter that 90 houses were destroyed in Paktika and dozens of people were trapped under the rubble.
Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, wrote on Twitter that hundreds of people were killed and injured in the earthquake that shook four districts of Paktika.
“We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the region immediately to prevent further disasters,” he wrote.
Karimi told NBC News the situation was “pretty critical.”
“Hundreds of houses have collapsed and we expect heavy casualties and severe damage to infrastructure,” he said.
In a single district in neighboring Khost province, the quake killed at least 25 people and injured more than 95 others, local officials said.
In Kabul, Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund called an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate the relief effort for victims in Paktika and Khost.
The “response is on its way,” UN resident coordinator in Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov wrote on Twitter.
Some remote parts of Pakistan reported damage to homes near the Afghan border, but it was not immediately clear whether this was due to rain or the earthquake, said Taimoor Khan, spokesman for the management of the disasters in the region.
In a statement, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif expressed condolences over the earthquake, saying his country would provide aid to the Afghan people.
The European seismological agency, EMSC, said tremors from the quake were felt 500 kilometers (310 miles) by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Mountainous Afghanistan and the larger region of South Asia along the Hindu Kush Mountains have long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes.
In 2015, a major earthquake that hit the northeast of the country killed more than 200 people in Afghanistan and neighboring northern Pakistan. A magnitude 6.1 earthquake in 2002 killed around 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, another earthquake of the same strength and subsequent tremors in remote northeast Afghanistan killed at least 4,500 people.
Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Jon Gambrell and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.