An earthquake that struck a remote border region of Afghanistan has killed at least 1,000 people, with the toll expected to rise as desperate rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings.

Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. (AFP)

A powerful earthquake has devastated a rural, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 1,000 people and injuring 1,500 more in one of the deadliest quakes in decades.

Information remained scarce on the magnitude 6.1 temblor that hit near the Pakistan border early on Wednesday, but quakes of that strength can cause severe damage in areas where homes and other buildings are poorly constructed and landslides are common.

Experts put the depth at just 10 kilometres (6 miles) — another factor that could lead to severe destruction. Officials warned that the already grim toll may still rise.

"People are digging grave after grave," said Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in hard-hit Paktika, adding that at least 1,000 people had died in that province alone.

Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said the quake's epicentre was in Paktika, some 50 kilometres (31 miles) southwest of the city of Khost.

READ MORE: 'Shocking & shameful': Conflicts push millions of children out of school

Afghans evacuate the wounded in Paktika province, eastern Afghanistan. (AP)
Afghans evacuate the wounded in Paktika province, eastern Afghanistan. (AP) (AP)

Heavy damage 

Buildings were also damaged in Khost province, and tremors were felt some 375 kilometres (230 miles) away in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

Rescuers rushed to the area by helicopter, but the response is likely to be complicated since many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August.

The death toll given by the state-run Bakhtar News Agency was equal to that of a quake in 2002 in northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people.

In most places in the world, an earthquake of that magnitude wouldn’t inflict such extensive devastation, said Robert Sanders, a seismologist with the US Geological Survey.

But a quake’s death toll more often comes down to geography, building quality and population density.

“Because of the mountainous area, there are rockslides and landslides that we won’t know about until later reporting. Older buildings are likely to crumble and fail,” he said.

READ MORE: Afghanistan seeks humanitarian aid without 'political bias'

Collapsed mud houses in the Gayan district of Paktika province, eastern Afghanistan. (AFP PHOTO/BAKHTAR NEWS AGENCY)
Collapsed mud houses in the Gayan district of Paktika province, eastern Afghanistan. (AFP PHOTO/BAKHTAR NEWS AGENCY) (AFP PHOTO /BAKHTAR NEWS AGENCY)

UN, EU, Türkiye offer help

In Kabul, Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund convened an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate the relief effort.

The United Nations and European Union were quick to offer assistance. From the Vatican City, Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims of the latest quake.

Responding to the tragic event, Türkiye's Foreign Ministry said: "Türkiye, as always, stands ready to provide every kind of assistance to the brotherly Afghan people who have been affected by the earthquake."

The Turkish Red Crescent, which has been operating in Afghanistan, has dispatched humanitarian aid for the earthquake victims in the region, the ministry said.

The European seismological agency, EMSC, said the earthquake’s tremors were felt over 500 kilometres (310 miles) by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

READ MORE: Taliban unveils food-for-work programme to tackle hunger, unemployment

Source: TRTWorld and agencies