US & World

Death toll in powerful Afghanistan earthquake climbs past 260

Pakistani federal employees gather outside their offices in Islamabad after Monday's deadly 7.5-magnitude earthquake.
Pakistani federal employees gather outside their offices in Islamabad after Monday's deadly 7.5-magnitude earthquake.
Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani federal employees gather outside their offices in Islamabad after Monday's deadly 7.5-magnitude earthquake.
An Afghan man digs through the rubble of a damaged building after a powerful earthquake in Raman Kheel village in Panjshir valley on October 26, 2015. A powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake killed at least 70 people as it rocked south Asia on October 26, including 12 Afghan girls crushed to death in a stampede as they tried to flee their collapsing school.
STR/AFP/Getty Images


Update 6:24 p.m. The death toll continues to climb from the massive earthquake that rocked northeast Afghanistan near its border with Pakistan. More than 260 people are confirmed dead across the region with the majority of the reported casualties in Pakistan.

The epicenter of the magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck a remote area of Afghanistan but could be felt across the region as far north as Tajikistan and as far south as India.

The Associated Press reports that in Kabul, Afghanistan, buildings trembled for up to 45 seconds causing walls to crack and vehicles to roll down the streets. The AP adds:

"At least 228 people were killed in Pakistan, with more than 1,000 injured, while Afghan officials reported 33 dead and more than 200 injured, and authorities in the Indian-controlled Kashmir region reported two deaths. Officials expected the casualty toll to rise as they reached the remote areas.

"Authorities struggled to reach the hardest-hit areas in Afghanistan near the epicenter, located 73 kilometers (45 miles) south of Fayzabad, the capital of Badakhshan province."

The U.S. Geological Survey says that structures in the region are "highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking, though some resistant structures exist." It also reports most of the at-risk structures are "adobe block and unreinforced brick with timber floor construction."

The death toll could climb in the days to come, according to Reuters, because "communications were down in much of the rugged Hindu Kush mountain range where the quake was centered." The Reuters report continues:

"Shockwaves were felt in New Delhi in northern India and across northern Pakistan, where hundreds of people ran out of buildings as the ground rolled beneath them. No deaths were reported in India.

" 'We were very scared ... We saw people leaving buildings, and we were remembering our God,' Pakistani journalist Zubair Khan said by telephone from the Swat Valley northwest of the capital Islamabad.

" 'I was in my car and, when I stopped my car, the car itself was shaking as if someone was pushing it back and forth. '"

NPR's Philip Reeves, reporting from Kabul, filed this report on damage from the earthquake, said to be mostly in northern Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan.

"In one Afghan town, 12 school girls died trying to escape a building via a stairway. In Pakistan, TV footage shows cracked buildings, houses with missing roofs, cars crashed by trees, and injured people crowding into hospitals.

"This quake struck in a remote area and, in many places, cut power and communications, so the full picture's far from clear. Concern's particularly focusing on villages in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, where after recent rain and snow, there's a risk of landslides."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters during the daily briefing on Monday that the United States is prepared to help if asked.

"The U.S. government has been in touch with the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan and we stand ready to provide any additional support that may be needed," Earnest said.

Earlier Monday, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, "I pray for everyone's safety." He also said via Twitter he spoke with both Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Modi said he offered Pakistan "all possible assistance from India."

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The Hindustan Times reports:

"Modi reached out to Pakistan despite the frosty relations between the two countries and the renewed cross-border firing by Pakistan in which one civilian has been killed in Jammu and Kashmir and several others injured, besides leading to a scare in the border villages.

...

"Pakistan's information minister Pervez Rashid, meanwhile, told a news conference Pakistan will not issue any appeals to the international community for help as the country has the required resources to carry out the rescue and relief work. He also thanked neighboring India for offering support to Islamabad for the quake victims.

"He said Pakistani civil and military authorities were trying their best to reach those affected by the quake."

According to the USGS, the temblor was "approximately 210 km [132 miles] below the Hindu Kush Range in northeastern Afghanistan." The epicenter was some 150 miles from the Afghan capital city of Kabul.

The BBC says that:

"In the city of Karimabad [Pakistan], in Gilgit-Baltistan, a witness who gave his name as Anas told the BBC that the quake had sent a landslide crashing into the Hunza river.

" 'At first it was as if someone was shaking us. There were about 20 of us and we just held on to each other,' he said.

" 'Right after that we saw a major landslide. Some people say it was a glacier that came down, some people say it was a hill. It fell right in front of our eyes.' "

The Guardian reports elsewhere in Pakistani, the isolated village of Chitral, near the Afghan border, was hard hit and at least a dozen people were killed.

"Among the dead were passengers travelling to a wedding when their four-wheel-drive vehicle was hit by falling boulders from the steep mountainsides.

" 'In Chitral it was just so shocking – we are so close to the epicentre,' said Asadullah Ghalib, a Chitral resident. "There have been landslides, extensive damage to infrastructure and a lot of old houses have been completely damaged."

Geophysicist Amy Vaughan of the USGS tells NPR's Newscast desk that the region is "very seismically active," noting that this is where the Eurasian and Indian plates converge.

Philip says that Monday's quake hit nearly a decade after a temblor that killed tens of thousands of people in the region:

"South Asians haven't forgotten the earthquake 10 years ago in the Himalayan Mountains in which more than 70,000 people — many of them Pakistanis — were killed, and many more were made homeless. That quake had a magnitude of 7.6."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Update 9:48 a.m. Afghan earthquake rocks Asia, more than 150 dead

A strong earthquake in northern Afghanistan shook buildings from Kabul to Delhi, cut power and communications in some areas and caused more than 150 deaths, mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistani officials said that at least 147 people were killed and nearly 600 others wounded across the country, while Afghan officials said 33 people were killed and more than 200 wounded.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of the 7.5-magnitude earthquake was in the Hindu Kush mountains, in the sparsely populated province of Badakhshan, which borders Pakistan, Tajikistan and China. It said the epicenter was 213 kilometers (130 miles) deep and 73 kilometers (45 miles) south of the provincial capital, Fayzabad.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani sent his condolences to families who had lost relatives and property, and appointed an "assessment committee" to ensure emergency relief reached the needy as soon as possible, his office said.

In Takhar province, west of Badakhshan, at least 12 students at a girls' school were killed in a stampede as they fled shaking buildings, said Sonatullah Taimor, the spokesman for the provincial governor. Another 42 girls were taken to the hospital in the provincial capital of Taluqan.

In Pakistan, Inayatullah Khan, the provincial minister for local bodies, said the death toll in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone had jumped to 121.

The toll from Afghanistan's Badakhshan province was likely to rise as reports came in from remote areas. The province is often struck by earthquakes, but casualty figures are usually low.

The province also suffers from floods, snowstorms and mudslides, and despite vast mineral deposits is one of Afghanistan's poorest regions. It has recently also been troubled by Taliban-led insurgents, who have used its remote valleys as cover to seize districts as they spread their footprint across the country.

Power was cut across much of the Afghan capital, where tremors were felt for around 45 seconds. Houses shook, walls cracked and cars rolled in the streets. Officials in the capital could not be immediately reached as telephones appeared to be cut across the country.

Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah tweeted that the earthquake was the strongest felt in recent decades.

He had earlier called an emergency meeting of disaster officials, which was broadcast live on television. He instructed doctors and hospitals to be prepared to receive and treat casualties.

Abdullah said telecommunications have been disrupted in vast parts of the country, preventing officials from getting a precise picture of damage and casualties. He also warned of aftershocks from the earthquake.

In Pakistan, Zahid Rafiq, an official with the meteorological department, said the quake was felt across the country. In the capital, Islamabad, buildings shook and panicked people poured into the streets, many reciting verses from the Quran.

"I was praying when the massive earthquake rattled my home. I came out in a panic," said Munir Anwar, a resident of Liaquat Pur in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province.

Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, ordered troops to the quake-affected areas, the military said in a statement. It gave no further details.

The quake was also felt in the Indian capital New Delhi, though no damage was immediately reported. Office buildings swayed and workers who had just returned from lunch ran out of buildings and gathered in the street or in parking lots.

In Srinagar, the main city in the India-controlled portion of disputed Kashmir, the tremors lasted at least 40 seconds, with buildings swaying and electrical wires swinging wildly, residents said.

"First I thought somebody had banged the door. But within seconds, the earth began shaking below my feet, and that's when I ran out of the building," said government official Naseer Ahmed.

People ran outside, shouting, crying and chanting religious hymns in an effort to keep calm. "I thought it was the end of the world," shopkeeper Iqbal Bhat said.

Srinagar Police Inspector General Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gilani said that "some bridges and buildings have been damaged," including a cracked highway overpass.

Two elderly women died from heart attacks suffered during the earthquake, including a 65-year-old woman in the northern Kashmiri town of Baramulla and an 80-year-old in the southern town of Bijbehara, officials said.

Ahmed reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, Roshan Mughal in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan, Sherin Zada in Mingora, Pakistan, Aqeel Ahmed in Mansehra, Pakistan, Asim Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan, Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India, and Nirmala George in New Delhi contributed to this report.

— AP

This story has been updated.