A powerful earthquake that shook regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan has caused chaos on the streets, leading to panic and stampedes during the evacuation process.
Yesterday’s temblor struck Afghanistan at about 5:10 a.m local time and devastated the remote northern towns surrounding the mountainous Hindu Kush region. The earthquake was also widely felt in neighboring Pakistan, with cities like Lahore, Peshawar and the capital Islamabad being affected. The Faizabad district in northern India felt the force of the earthquake, as did the Indian capital Delhi and the central Asian countries Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Earthquakes are a common occurrence in South Asia and are caused by the northward collision of the Indian plate with the Eurasian plate. The two tectonic plates are moving towards each other at a rate of 4-5cm per year and at the boundaries between the plates, stresses build up due to this movement causing displacement of the ground and earthquakes to occur.
The U.S. Geological Survey initially measured the earthquake at a magnitude of 7.7 but later revised it to 7.5. What made the earthquake so powerful and destructive was the fact that it took place more than 200km below the surface and in elevated mountainous regions, causing landslides to occur and the effects to be more widespread, but less severe ground shaking.
The epicentre of the earthquake was near the Afghan city of Jarm. The majority of people living in this rural area live in mud brick buildings at elevated levels amongst the mountains, which are poorly built and prone to collapsing. In other Afghan towns there were no reports of additional casualties but there were severe structural damages. Amidst the chaos of the evacuation process, stampedes in the Takhar Province, north-eastern Afghanistan, claimed the lives of 12 schoolgirls aged between 10 and 15 year old, who were crushed in the school’s stairwell as people evacuated the building.
The earthquake itself claimed the lives of 73 people and has injured more than 300 in Afghanistan. A further 25 students from the same school were injured in the stampede. In the Afghan capital of Kabul, homes, offices, schools and cars were vacated as locals streamed out onto the streets. There have also been power failures reported throughout Afghanistan, so getting aid to those in rural areas has been problematic. Witnesses have also reported a series of aftershocks. Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, tweeted that the Afghan government has asked aid agencies to work with it to help those in need.
Pakistan suffered the worst casualties with more than 200 people reported dead and about 1000 people reported to be injured. In northern Pakistan, due to a bout of recent heavy rains, the earthquake has triggered landslides at mountains. A witness named Anas, described the scenes: “At first it was as if someone was shaking us. There were about 20 of us and we just held on to each other. Right after that we saw a major landslide. Some people say it was a glacier that came down, some people say it was a hill. It fell right in front of our eyes.”Pakistan’s military has been activated and all non-combat units are on standby to aid the rescue and evacuation process. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who is currently on political duty abroad, is cutting short his visit and is returning home immediately.
The Indian capital of New Delhi was also affected by the earthquake. CNN’s bureau chief in Delhi, Ravi Agrawal, said: “We could feel a fair bit of shaking. We could see tables shaking a little bit; the TVs on the wall were shaking a little bit.” Although there haven’t been any casualties reported in Delhi, the Indian government has expressed their willingness to help its neighbouring countries. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “I have asked for an urgent assessment and we stand ready for assistance where required, including Afghanistan & Pakistan.” Modi has contacted his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif and has pledged to work together and offer support and aid. The earthquake was also felt in other Indian cities, including those in the state of Uttar Pradesh and Srinagar, about 300 miles away from the epicenter in Badakhshan.
In Kyrgyzstan, political activist Edil Baisalov has said that the tremors were quite long; “As far as I know no damage in Kyrgyzstan.”
In Tajikistan, earthquakes are a common occurrence. There are reports of injuries and buildings collapsing due to the tremors. At Khorog state university, evacuations and stampedes injured a number of people, including children as schools were evacuated.
Many of the remote villages are not easily accessible due to poor infrastructure, making the aid effort ever more important. The governments of the countries affected are calling on humanitarian agencies to support the rescue efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake disaster. The death toll is expected to rise.