Afghanistan earthquake: At least 285 people feared after 5.9 . earthquake

The earthquake struck about 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, which is close to the country’s border with Pakistan, at 1:24 a.m., according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The earthquake registered at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), according to USGS, which assigned the quake a yellow warning level — indicating a relatively localized impact.

Most of the deaths were in Paktika province, where 255 people were killed and 155 others injured in Giyan, Nika, Barmal and Zirok districts, according to the disaster relief ministry.

In neighboring Khost province, 25 people were killed and several others were injured, and five people were killed in Nangarhar province, the disaster relief authority said.

Photos from Paktika Province, just south of Khost Province, show ruined houses with only a few walls still standing among the rubble, and broken roof beams.

Local officials and residents have warned that the death toll is likely to rise, according to state news agency Bakhtar.

A team of medics and seven helicopters have been dispatched to the area to transport injured people to nearby hospitals, the Afghan Defense Ministry said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Najibullah Sadid, an Afghan water resource expert, said the earthquake coincided with heavy monsoon rains in the region, making traditional houses, many made of mud and other natural materials, particularly vulnerable to damage.

“The timing of the earthquake (in the) dark of night … and the shallow depth of 10 kilometers from the epicenter led to more casualties,” he added.

A Taliban deputy spokesman Bilal Karimi said the earthquake had been “serious” and asked aid agencies to “send teams urgently” to the affected area.

In a tweet on Wednesday, the World Health Organization said its teams were on the scene for emergency response, including providing medicines, trauma services and conducting needs assessments.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted his condolences and an offer of support on Wednesday. “Deeply saddened to hear about the earthquake in Afghanistan, which resulted in the loss of innocent lives,” he wrote. “People in Pakistan share the grief and sorrow of their Afghan brothers. Relevant authorities are working to support Afghanistan in this time of need.”

Pope Francis said during his weekly audience on Wednesday that he was praying “for those who have lost their lives and for their families”. “I hope help can be sent to help all the suffering of the dear people of Afghanistan.”

The earthquake comes as the country is gripped by a hunger crisis. Nearly half of the population — 20 million people — are suffering from acute hunger, according to a United Nations-backed report in May. It’s a situation exacerbated by the Taliban who took power in August 2021, leading the United States and its allies to freeze about $7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cut international financing.

The move crippled an economy that was already heavily dependent on aid.

Hada Messia of CNN contributed to this report.

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