At least 1,000 people are dead after Afghanistan was rocked by a powerful earthquake early Wednesday, with the death toll expected to climb.
Another 1,500 injuries have also been reported after the quake—which had a 6.1 magnitude, according to the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC)—hit near the Pakistani border, around 27 miles from the city of Khost in southeastern Afghanistan. The horrific death toll was confirmed by a Taliban government spokesperson, NBC News reports.
The quake was so powerful that tremors could be felt by around 119 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India across a 310 mile range, the EMSC says. Distressing images published by local media showed buildings destroyed and bodies on the ground in the aftermath of the disaster.
Large numbers of the confirmed fatalities were in the Paktika province, where 255 Afghans were killed and over 200 injured, Reuters reports. Another 25 were killed in Khost province, where an additional 90 people needed hospital treatment.
“The death toll is likely to rise as some of the villages are in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to collect details,” interior ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi said. He added that helicopters had been deployed in a rescue operation to reach further casualties and bring them vital medical supplies.
Officials in the Taliban government have publicly called for support as the terrible scale of the crisis emerged. “A severe earthquake shook four districts of Paktika province, killing and injuring hundreds of our countrymen and destroying dozens of houses,” Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesperson for the Taliban government, tweeted after the disaster. “We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further catastrophe.”
Karimi later announced that 1 billion afghanis (over $11 million) would be distributed in “cash and other assistance.”
Wednesday’s earthquake is just the latest horror to blight the Afghan people in recent months. Following the rapid withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces from the country last August, Afghanistan has been plunged into a litany of disasters.
In November, the Head of the UN World Food Program said Afghanistan was dealing with “the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth” as some 22 million people faced starvation after a ruinous famine. The country’s health-care system and wider economy, which depend on vital international aid, have also been decimated by Western sanctions since the Taliban takeover.