At least 263 dead as 7.5 magnitude quake rattles Pak, Afghanistan; UN ready to support relief ops

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says U.N. agencies are mobilizing and are ready to support government-led relief operations for earthquake victims in Afghanistan and Pakistan if asked. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday that “reports are still coming in but it is clear that there has been loss of life and serious damage to infrastructure in both countries.” He said Ban sends his deepest condolences to the governments and people of Afghanistan and Pakistan especially to those affected by the quake who lost family or friends. Dujarric said scattered reports indicate damage across northeast Afghanistan and in Kabul. He said the government and U.N. are hampered by the lack of phone service. On Monday, a massive earthquake struck remote and impoverished regions of northern Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing at least 263 people as it shook buildings across South Asia and knocked out power and communications to already-isolated areas. The 7.5-magnitude quake was centered deep beneath the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan’s sparsely populated Badakhshan province, which borders Pakistan, Tajikistan and China, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

In the Afghan capital of Kabul, buildings shook for up to 45 seconds, walls cracked and cars rolled in the streets as electricity went out. Frightened workers who had just returned from lunch also rushed from swaying buildings in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and to the south in the Indian capital of New Delhi. It struck at around 2.40 PM, sending ripples across several states like Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, the National Capital Region (NCR), Punjab, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan.

“I was praying when the massive earthquake rattled my home. I came out in a panic,” said Munir Anwar of Liaquat Pur in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province.

At least 228 people were killed in Pakistan, with more than 1,000 injured, while Afghan officials reported 33 dead and more than 200 injured, and authorities in the Indian-controlled Kashmir region reported two deaths. Officials expected the casualty toll to rise as they reached the remote areas.

Authorities struggled to reach the hardest-hit areas in Afghanistan near the epicenter, located 73 kilometers (45 miles) south of Fayzabad, the capital of Badakhshan province.

Abdul Humayoon Dehqan, the head of the National Disaster Management Authority’s provincial office, said he knew of only 12 dead and 20 injured in the province, mostly in collapsed buildings, and that his teams would not reach affected areas until Tuesday morning to get a better count.

Despite vast mineral deposits, Badakhshan is one of Afghanistan’s poorest provinces. It is often hit by earthquakes, but casualty figures are usually low because it is so sparsely populated, with fewer than 1 million people spread across its vast mountains and valleys. It also suffers from floods, snowstorms and mudslides. Taliban-led insurgents have used its remote valleys as cover recently to seize districts as they spread their footprint across the country. Dehqan said some districts remain under Taliban control “and we don’t know how we will be able to help people in those areas.” In Takhar province, west of Badakhshan, 12 students at a girls’ school were killed in a stampede as they fled shaking buildings, said Sonatullah Taimor, the spokesman for the provincial governor. Another 42 girls were taken to a hospital in the provincial capital of Taluqan. In the northern town of Baramulla in the Indian-controlled part of the disputed Kashmir region, police officer Imtiyaz Hussain says a 65-year-old woman became so panicked she had a heart attack and died.

Our bureaus in Chandigarh and Srinagar have reported massive tremors, though no reports of damage have come in. The NDRF has been put on alert and 24 battalions are ready for deployment. Speaking to CNN-IBN, DG, NDRF OP Singh said: “So far we haven’t recieved news about any damage in the country. We are trying to contact officials in Jammu and Kashmir. We have alerted our battalions in Punjab and Ghaziabad for rescue operations in Jammu and Kashmir and NCR respectively. Twent four teams are on alert and if the crisis worsens we will be on the field. We cannot get in touch with officials in J&K as phone lines are down. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed concern and said India was ready to provide any assistance required.