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Taliban Appeal For Help After Afghanistan Quake Kills More Than 1,000

Afghan authorities struggled Thursday to reach a remote area hit by an earthquake that killed some 1,000 people, but poor communications and a lack of good roads hampered their efforts, officials said, while the country’s supreme leader the international community begged for help.

The earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale struck about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kabul early Wednesday, in arid mountains dotted with small settlements near the Pakistani border. It hit areas already suffering from the effects of heavy rain, causing rock chips and mudslides that hampered rescue efforts.

“We can’t reach the area, the networks are too weak, we’re trying to get updates,” Mohammad Ismail Muawiyah, a spokesman for the Taliban’s top military commander in the hardest-hit province of Paktika, told Reuters, citing telephone networks. †

The quake killed about 1,000 people and injured 1,500, he said. More than 3,000 houses were destroyed. About 600 people were rescued from several affected areas Wednesday night, he added.

‘Entire villages razed to the ground’ in deadly Afghan earthquake

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In a rare move, the supreme leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, who rarely appears in public, pleaded with the international community and humanitarian organizations “to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and do their utmost “.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the global agency was “fully mobilized” to help, with UN officials confirming the deployment of health teams and supplies of medicines, food, trauma kits and emergency shelters in the earthquake zone.

The bailout will be a major test for the hard-line Islamist Taliban authorities, who took over the country last August after two decades of war and have been cut off from much international aid due to sanctions. The Taliban-led Ministry of Defense is leading the rescue efforts.

Afghan international rescue workers scramble to reach the earthquake zone

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Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s emergency response teams had been stretched to deal with the natural disasters that often hit the country. But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters left since the Taliban returned to power, any immediate response to the latest catastrophe has been further limited.

Afghan media published photos of houses turned to rubble and bodies shrouded in blankets on the ground in the hours after the quake. Accurate information is limited from remote mountain villages.

The town of Gayan, close to the epicenter, has suffered significant damage and most of the mud-walled buildings have been damaged or completely collapsed, a Reuters team said.

The city was buzzing with Taliban soldiers and ambulances when a helicopter carrying relief supplies landed nearby, stirring up huge clouds of dust. About 300 people sat on the ground waiting for supplies.

The earthquake struck about 44 kilometers from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, at a depth of 51 kilometers.
The earthquake struck about 44 kilometers from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, at a depth of 51 kilometers. © FRANCE 24

Large areas of South Asia are seismically active as a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate pushes northward into the Eurasian plate.

In 2015, an earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast, killing hundreds of people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan. An earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan in 2002. And a 6.1 magnitude earthquake and subsequent quakes in northeastern Afghanistan in 1998 killed at least 4,500 people.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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