KABUL: An earthquake of magnitude 6.1 shook parts of densely populated Afghanistan and Pakistan early Wednesday, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said, with Afghan officials saying at least 920 people were killed and 610 injured in the country’s east.
The quake struck about 44km (27 miles) from the city of Khost in southeastern Afghanistan at a depth of 51km, according to the USGS.
Mohammad Nassim Haqqani, the head of the Taliban administration’s disaster management authority, said they would provide further updates once they had completed further investigation.
“According to our primary information the earthquake had casualties and damage, we are investigating,” he said.
Shaking was felt over some 500km by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the European Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said in a tweet.
It was felt in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, as well as Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, according to witness accounts posted on the EMSC website and Twitter.
“Strong and long jolts,” one witness posted on EMSC from Kabul. “It was strong,” another witness posted from Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan.
“It was strong,” said a resident of the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.
Photographs on Afghan media showed houses reduced to rubble and bodies covered in blankets on the ground.
The EMSC put the magnitude at 6.1 though the USGC said it was 5.9.
Most of the confirmed deaths were in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika, where 255 people had been killed and more than 200 injured, said interior ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi.
In Khost province, 25 people had been killed and 90 taken to hospital, he said.
“The death toll is likely to rise as some of the villages are in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to collect details,” he said.
Authorities had launched a rescue operation and helicopters were being used to reach the injured and take in medical supplies and food, he added.
Shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the EMSC said on Twitter.
The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been enduring a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over August, as US-led international forces were withdrawing after two decades of war.
In response to the Taliban takeover, many governments have imposed sanctions on Afghanistan’s banking sector and cut billions of dollars worth of development aid.
Humanitarian aid has continued and international agencies such as the United Nations operate in the country.
An Afghan foreign ministry spokesman said they would welcome help from any international organization.
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 2015, an earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan.