Earthquake death toll reaches 300 in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Rescuers are struggling to reach earthquake-stricken regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan as officials said the combined death toll has risen to 311.According to Afghan and Pakistani officials, 237 people died in Pakistan and 74 in Afghanistan in the magnitude-7.5 quake, which was centred deep beneath the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan’s sparsely populated Badakhshan province that borders Pakistan, Tajikistan and China.Afghan authorities are struggling to reach the hardest-hit areas near the epicentre, located 45 miles (73km) south of Fayzabad, the capital of Badakhshan province.In Pakistan, the Swat Valley and areas around the towns of Dir, Malakand and Shangla in the mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province were also hard-hit in the quake. The Pakistani town closest to the epicentre is Chitral, while on the Afghan side it is the Jurm district of Badakhshan.

More than 2,000 people were injured in Monday’s quake, which also damaged nearly 2,500 homes in Pakistan, officials said. In Afghanistan, Wais Ahmad Barmak, the Afghan minister for disaster management, said 266 people were injured.Badakhshan’s Governor, Shah Waliullah Adeeb, said that, in all, 13 districts in the province had been affected, with more than 1,500 houses either destroyed or partially destroyed.In his province alone, casualty figures of 11 dead and 25 injured “will rise by the end of the day, once the survey teams get to the remote areas and villages”, he said.Helicopters are needed to reach the most remote villages, many inaccessible by road at the best of times, he added. Now, landslides and falling rocks have blocked the few existing roads. Food and other essentials are ready to go, he said, but “getting there is not easy”.

Badakhshan is one of the poorest regions of Afghanistan, despite vast mineral deposits. It is often hit by earthquakes, but casualty figures are usually low because it is so sparsely populated, with fewer than one million people spread across its vast mountains and valleys. It also suffers from floods, snowstorms and mudslides.The casualties and the extent of damage are still being assessed, said Ahmad Kamal, the spokesman for Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority.

The Bajur tribal region bordering Afghanistan was also affected by the quake, with dozens of homes damaged in other tribal regions.Pakistani helicopters and military planes are being used to transport relief supplies and military engineers ware working on restoring communication lines disrupted by landslides triggered by the quake, said army spokesman Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa.Landslides are also hampering rescue attempts in some areas, and roads are being cleared to ease access. The military is also distributing food and blankets to people in remote and inaccessible north-western and northern regions, where most casualties and damage were reported, Lt Gen Bajwa said in a statement.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was expected to visit the earthquake-hit areas later on Tuesday, after returning from an official visit to the United States.Monday afternoon’s quake shook buildings in the capital, Islamabad, and elsewhere in Pakistan and Afghanistan for up to 45 seconds, creating cracks in walls and shutting down power.

In Afghanistan’s Takhar province, 12 students at a girls’ school were killed in a stampede as they fled a shaking building.Sonatullah Taimor, a spokesman for the governor of Takhar province, said so far authorities had recorded 14 people dead there – including the schoolgirls. More than 50 were injured and 200 houses were destroyed.He said food, blankets and tents were in short supply, though people had been warned to sleep outside – in near-freezing temperatures – in case of aftershocks.

The United States offered emergency shelters and relief supply kits stored in warehouses throughout Afghanistan that could be used. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US government has been in touch with officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is ready to provide any additional support.Pakistan has said it 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.A magnitude-7.6 quake hit Pakistan on October 8 2005, killing more than 80,000 people and leaving more than 3 million homeless, most of them in the north-west of the country and in the divided region of Kashmir.

That quake was much shallower than Monday’s – 6 miles (10km) below the surface, compared with the depth of 130 miles (213km) on Monday – and thus caused greater damage, said Mohammad Hanif, an official at the Meteorological Department.

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