Death toll from Afghanistan earthquake exceeds 300

Over 300 dead in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir as rescue officials try to reach quake zones one day after 7.5 magnitude earthquake

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Men perform prayers in front of the caskets of 12 female students who were killed after an earthquake in Taloqan, Afghanistan October 27, 2015.

Rescuers on Tuesday are trying to reach zones affected by the 7.5 magnitude earthquake which took place yesterday in Afghanistan epicentered, from which the death toll has so far risen to above 300.

The quake which hit the Hindu Kush mountain range in northeastern Afghanistan affected a wide area including Kabul, Pakistan’s capital Islamabad and India’s capital New Delhi. People in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan also felt the tremor.

Pakistani officials said that 237 people died in Pakistan while Afghan officials reported 76 deaths in their country.

Over 2,000 people were injured and nearly 2,500 homes were damaged in Pakistan, officials said.

Helicopters and military planes are being used to transport relief supplies in Pakistan, and military engineers are working to restore communication lines that were disrupted by landslides triggered by the quake, Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa, an army spokesman, said.

Over 260 people were injured in Afghanistan, Wais Ahmad Barmak, the Afghan minister for disaster management said.

More than 1,500 houses were also destroyed or damaged in Badakhshan Province, where the epicenter of the earthquake was located, and around 4,000 homes were damaged throughout Afghanistan by the quake.

Sonatullah Taimor, a spokesman for the governor of Takhar, also in Afghanistan, said food, blankets and tents were in short supply, although they warned people to sleep outside - in near-freezing temperatures - in case of aftershocks.

Three people have also died in disputed Kashmir. Police officer Imtiyaz Hussain said a 65-year-old woman died from a heart attack.

It is expected the numbers will rise after rescuers and officials reach remote areas in the affected zone.  

Dr. John Ebel, chairman of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Boston College in the US, said that though the depth of the earthquake, 213.5 kilometers, limited its severity. Possible landslides in the mountainous region could cause major problems.

"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.

Offers of help

Several countries including the United States and Iran have offered humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, which already heavily depends on foreign aid after suffering from decades of internal conflict.

The US offered emergency shelters and relief supply kits that were stored in warehouses throughout Afghanistan. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said they have been in touch with officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan and are ready to provide any additional support.

“The Islamic Emirate [Taliban] calls on our good willed countrymen and charitable organizations to not hold back in providing shelter, food and medical supplies to the victims of this earthquake,” the Afghan Taliban, which has strong presence in severaal parts of the country, announced on its website on Tuesday.

“It similarly orders its Mujahideen in the affected areas to lend their complete help to the victims and facilitate those giving charity to the needy,” they also added.

However, the head of a western charity organisation told Agence France Presse that the g Taliban is hindering aid workers from accessing the victims of the earthquake.

"We have no presence in the affected areas, limiting our chances of a fair assessment of the security situation on the ground," he added.

Badakhshan is one of poorest regions of Afghanistan, despite having rich mineral resources.

The quake was also felt in New Delhi. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among those who offered help to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I have asked for an urgent assessment and we stand ready for assistance where required, including Afghanistan & Pakistan,” he tweeted on Monday.

Pakistan has said it has the required resources for the rescue and relief work.

Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, had promised the previous day that his government "will try our best to deal with this disaster using our own resources."  He is expected to visit the earthquake affected areas later on Tuesday.

7.5 or 8.1?

The intensity of the earthquake was declared to be 7.7, and before being lowered to 7.6 and finally to 7.5 on the Richter Scale by the US Geological Survey (USGS).

However the Pakistan Meteorological Department measured the intensity of the quake as 8.1 and said the USGS reading are different because the organisation doesn’t have a station in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

“On the other hand, PMD has bases to observe seismic activities in Cherat and Chitral. There is also an advanced station in the Pattan area of Swat [all in Pakistan], since these areas fall in the active seismic zone,” an official said according to local media.

TRTWorld and agencies