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. More than 130 people died.
“The strongest earthquake in recent years has caused heavy damages and casualties in the nation,” Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s chief executive officer, told the country in a televised address. He said that 11 children died in a stampede as they tried to run out of a school building during the earthquake.
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.
The death toll in Pakistan reached 123, with 956 people injured, the country’s military spokesman said on Twitter.
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.
“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.”
–With assistance from Natalie Obiko Pearson, Bibhudatta Pradhan, Tom Lasseter, Kartikay Mehrotra, Sunil Jagtiani, Indranil Ghosh and Anurag Kotoky in New Delhi, Khalid Qayum in Islamabad and Ravil Shirodkar in Mumbai.