powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday has killed 1,000 people and injured 1,500 more , authorities have said.
The 6.1 magnitude quake hit in Paktika province causing scores of homes to collapse and landslides.
The quake struck about 27 miles from the south-eastern city of Khost shortly after 1.30am local time when many people were asleep in their beds.
Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada said hundreds of houses were destroyed and the death toll was likely to rise.
The head of information for Paktika province, Mohammad Amin Hazifi, told the BBC that 1,000 people had died and 1,500 are injured.
Rescue teams are still searching for others buried under the ground, he added.
Images showed destroyed stone houses, with residents searching through clay bricks and other rubble for survivors.
Victims were carried into helicopters to be airlifted to hospital from remote areas.
“A severe earthquake shook four districts of Paktika province, killing and injuring hundreds of our countrymen and destroying dozens of houses,” Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, wrote on Twitter.
“We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further catastrophe.”
In one district of the neighbouring Khost province, the earthquake killed at least 25 people and injured over 95 others, local officials said.
Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund convened an emergency meeting at the Presidential Palace in Kabul to coordinate the relief effort for victims.
The UN resident coordinator in Afghanistan said aid agencies were responding to the earthquake’s devastation.
The European seismological agency said the earthquake’s tremors were felt over a 300 mile area by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
The disaster poses a major test for the Taliban-led government, which seized power last year as the US and its allies pulled out from the country two decades after toppling the same insurgents in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Concerns have been rasied about how easily aid will be able to reach those affected.
Many international humanitarian organizations left the country in the wake of Taliban regain in control last year because of concerns about security and the regime’s poor human rights record.
Nearly all international carriers still avoid the country, and reluctance on the part of aid organizations to put any money in the Taliban’s coffers could make it difficult to fly in supplies and equipment, the Associated Press reported.
The Afghan Red Crescent Society, however, sent some 4,000 blankets, 800 tents and 800 kitchen kits to the affected area, according to Bakhtar’s director-general, Abdul Wahid Rayan.
The Italian medical aid group Emergency, which still operates in Afghanistan, said it sent seven ambulances and staff to the areas closest to the quake zone.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said his nation would provide help. At the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for all those killed and injured and for the “suffering of the dear Afghan population.”
Some remote areas of Pakistan saw reports of damage to homes near the Afghan border, but it wasn’t immediately clear if that was due to rain or the earthquake, said Taimoor Khan, a disaster management spokesperson in the area.
Earthquakes tend to cause significant damage in Afghanistan. Poor construction for homes, hospitals and other buildings put them at risk of collapse in earthquakes, while landslides remain common across the mountains. Decades of conflict have meant better protections have not been put in place.
In 2015, a major earthquake that struck the country’s northeast killed over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighbouring northern Pakistan. A similar 6.1 earthquake in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan.
In 1998, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people.