KABUL: Desperate rescuers battled against the clock and heavy rain Thursday to reach cut-off areas in eastern Afghanistan after a powerful earthquake killed at least 1,500 people and left thousands more homeless.
Government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a huge relief effort was ongoing inside and outside the quake-struck areas.
The death toll from the earthquake was 1,000 but it hit 1,500 just on Thursday as rescuers are trying to rescue an unknown number of people still trapped under rubble and in outlying areas and the toll is expected to grow as information trickles in from remote mountain villages. Rescue operations are reportedly complicated by bad weather conditions including heavy rains, landslides and isolated location of many villages being wedged inside hillsides.
“Many people are still buried under the soil. The rescue teams of the Islamic Emirate have arrived and with the help of local people are trying to take out the dead and injured,” a health worker at a hospital in the hard-hit Paktika province said, asking for anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to media.
Mounting a rescue operation will prove a major test for the hardline Islamist Taliban authorities, who took over the country last August after two decades of war and have been cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions. The Taliban-led ministry of defense is leading rescue efforts.
Wednesday’s 5.9-magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged east, downing mobile phone towers and power lines while triggering rock and mudslides which blocked mountain roads.
“Getting information from the ground is very difficult because of bad networks,” Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of information for badly hit Paktika province, told AFP Thursday, adding there was no immediate update to the death toll.
“The area has been affected by floods because of heavy rains last night… it is also difficult to access the affected sites.”
The disaster poses a huge logistical challenge for Afghanistan’s new Taliban government, which has isolated itself from much of the world by introducing hardline Islamist rule that subjugates women and girls.