REUTERS: The death toll from the earthquake in eastern Afghanistan has hit 1,000, according to a local official in province of Paktika, one of the hardest-hit areas.
“1,000 dead, 1,500 injured and this number might go up, many families have been lost. Injured people have been taken to Kabul and Gardez,” Paktika Information And Culture Director Mohammad Amin Hozaifa told Reuters.
Officially, disaster management officials still put the number of injured at 600.
Photographs on Afghan media showed houses reduced to rubble, with bodies swathed in blankets lying on the ground.
Helicopters were deployed in the rescue effort to reach the injured and fly in medical supplies and food, said an interior ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi.
“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.” Wednesday’s quake was the deadliest since 2002. It struck about 44 km (27 miles) from the south-eastern city of Khost, near the border with Pakistan, the US Geological Survey (USGC) said.
Most of the confirmed deaths were in the eastern province of Paktika, where 255 people were killed and more than 200 injured, Ayubi added. In the province of Khost, 25 were dead and 90 had been taken to hospital.
Haibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the ruling Taliban, offered his condolences in a statement.
Mounting a rescue operation could prove a major test for the Taliban, who took over the country in August and have been cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions.
Shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the EMSC said on Twitter, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in Pakistan.
The EMSC put the earthquake’s magnitude at 6.1, though the USGC said it was 5.9.