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Hundreds feared dead after strong quake strikes eastern Afghanistan


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A powerful earthquake struck Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika province early on Wednesday, killing at least 255 people and injuring hundreds of others, state media said.

The state-run Afghan news agency Bakhtar reported the death toll and said rescuers arrived by helicopter. The news agency’s director-general Abdul Wahid Rayan wrote on Twitter that 90 houses have been destroyed in Paktika and dozens of people are trapped under the rubble.

Footage from Paktika province, near the Pakistani border, shows victims being transported in helicopters to be flown over from the area. Images widely circulating online from the county showed ruined stone houses, with residents picking through bricks and other debris.

“A massive earthquake shook four districts of Paktika province, killing and injuring hundreds of our compatriots and destroying dozens of homes,” Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, wrote separately on Twitter. “We urge all aid agencies to immediately dispatch teams to the area to prevent further disasters.”

The earthquake struck about 44 kilometers (27 miles) from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, at a depth of 51 kilometers, the US Geological Survey said. The European Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said the shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

The head of the Taliban government’s natural disasters ministry, Mohammad Nassim Haqqani, said most of the deaths were in Paktika province, where 100 people were killed and 250 injured. Another 25 people were killed in Khost and five in Nangarhar province, he said, adding that investigations were being conducted to determine if there were more victims.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in Pakistan.

The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been experiencing a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over in August when US-led international forces withdrew after two decades of war. In response to the Taliban takeover, many governments have imposed sanctions on the Afghan banking sector and cut billions of dollars in development aid.

Mountainous Afghanistan and the greater region of South Asia, where the Indian tectonic plate collides with the Eurasian plate to the north, have long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes.

In 2015, a major earthquake in the northeast of the country killed more than 200 people in Afghanistan and neighboring northern Pakistan. A similar earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale and subsequent tremors in northeastern Afghanistan killed at least 4,500 people.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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