Afghanistan’s strongest earthquake in more than six decades shook buildings across South Asia, prompting officials from Kabul to Islamabad to New Delhi to send out rescue teams to search for survivors. Early reports said 15 people died.
A 7.5 magnitude quake struck 54 kilometers (158 miles) north of the Afghan capital at a depth of 213 kilometers at 2:39 p.m. Indian time, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was the first major temblor in the region since April, when a 7.8 earthquake in Nepal killed more than 8,000 people and triggered deadly avalanches on Mount Everest.
“This was by far the most severe earthquake I’ve felt in my lifetime,” Abdullah Ahmadzai, the Asia Foundation’s Afghanistan representative, said by phone from Kabul. “The region near the epicenter is not a highly populated district, but the structures there are very basic and vulnerable to these sorts of natural disasters. There is a lot of concern about mass destruction there.”
The quake caused landslides, disrupted mobile phone networks and caused houses to collapse in Pakistan, according to news reports. Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of India’s northern Jammu & Kashmir state, wrote on Twitter that electricity was cut off in the main city of Srinagar. Office workers in New Delhi evacuated buildings.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani convened an emergency meeting to assess the damage. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for an urgent assessment of the earthquake and said his nation is ready to provide assistance. Pakistan said its army had begun rescue efforts in the country.
The South Asia region has a history of catastrophic earthquakes because the tectonic plate that carries the Indian subcontinent is pushing northward into the main Asian plate. The 7.5 earthquake is the biggest to hit Afghanistan since 1949, according to USGS data.
–-With assistance from Natalie Obiko Pearson, Bibhudatta Pradhan, Tom Lasseter, Kartikay Mehrotra, Sunil Jagtiani and Indranil Ghosh in New Delhi, Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul, Khalid Qayum and Kamran Haider in Islamabad and Ravil Shirodkar in Mumbai.