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At least 1,000 killed in Afghan quake, with fear toll will rise

An Afghan man with his injured children at a hospital in Sharan, Paktika province, following the eartrhquake

A powerful earthquake jolted a remote border region of Afghanistan overnight killing at least 1,000 people and injuring 1,500 more, officials said Wednesday, with the toll expected to rise as desperate rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings.

The 5.9-magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged east, where people already lead hardscrabble lives in the grip of a humanitarian crisis made worse since the Taliban takeover in August.

He said more than 1,500 people were injured, many critically.

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the global agency has “fully mobilized” to help, with UN officials confirming the deployment of health teams and supplies of medicine, food, trauma kits and emergency shelter to the quake zone.

The earthquake struck areas that were already suffering the effects of heavy rain, causing rockfalls and mudslides that hampered rescue efforts.

“There were cries everywhere. The children and my family were under the mud.”

Sharan Hospital director Mohammad Yahya Wiar said they were doing their best to treat everyone.

Photographs and video posted on social media showed scores of badly damaged houses in remote areas. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, told reporters nearly 2,000 homes are likely destroyed.

The disaster poses a huge challenge for the Taliban, who have largely isolated the country as a result of their hardline Islamist policies — particularly the subjugation of women and girls.

But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters left since they returned to power, any immediate response to the latest catastrophe is further limited.

“We hope that the International Community & aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation.”

The United States, whose troops helped topple the initial Taliban regime and remained in Afghanistan for two decades until Washington pulled them out last year, was “deeply saddened” by the earthquake, the White House said.

The United Nations and European Union were quick to offer assistance.

In sending his condolences, UN chief Guterres noted how the tragedy is afflicting a nation mired in multiple crises.

Tomas Niklasson, EU special envoy for Afghanistan, tweeted: “The EU is monitoring the situation and stands ready to coordinate and provide EU emergency assistance to people and communities affected.”

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.

In 2015, more than 380 people were killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake ripped across the two countries.

From the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for victims of the latest quake.

Wednesday’s quake occurred at around 1:30 am at a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles), some 47 kilometers southwest of Khost, according to the United States Geological Survey.

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