At least 1,000 dead in earthquake in Afghanistan

LONDON -- At least 1,000 people have been killed and more than 1,500 others have been injured in a powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan, according to the country's state-run media.

The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the 5.9-magnitude quake near the Pakistani border at about 1:30 a.m. local time.

"We are deeply saddened by reports of an earthquake in eastern Afghanistan," the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said on Twitter. "We offer our heartfelt condolences to all who have been affected by this devastating event."

The death toll has continued to rise throughout the day, as rescue teams arrive in the mountainous area around the quake's epicenter. People were still being extracted from the rubble, as wind, rain and snow hampered efforts, Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, the United Nations' deputy special representative, and humanitarian coordinator for the country, told ABC News.

Mawlawi Sharafudin Muslim, deputy minister of disaster management, told reporters earlier on Wednesday that at least 920 people had been killed and at least 600 others were injured. He warned that the already tragic toll might rise.

A journalist on the scene told ABC News that many of the victims died in their homes, as the quake struck in the middle of the night, while many were asleep. The quake destroyed homes and knocked out communication, resulting a near total blackout.

"People got shocked with the hit and many lost their lives right at their homes," the journalist said.

Many of the villages that were hit are in remote areas with difficult access routes for emergency responders. The few pictures that have been published since the earthquake struck showed helicopters ferrying injured people away from the area.

Afghanistan Ministry of Defense's said in a press release that the ministry has sent seven helicopters with first aid to transport the wounded to military and civilian hospitals and to treat the victims. Teams from the field and central units had arrived at the scene to help transport the injured to health centers.

About 1,800 homes have been destroyed, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Mohammad Hasan Akhund, acting prime minister of the Taliban, announced the country will allocate more than $11 million to "urgently address the situation of the families of earthquake victims and victims in Paktika and Khost provinces," Bakhtar News Agency reported.

The quake's epicenter was in Paktika province, about 27 miles southwest of Khost, Pakistan's Meteorological Department said. That service, which placed the magnitude at 6.1, logged the quake at a depth of 31 miles.

"I am saddened over loss of precious lives by earthquake in Afghanistan & express my sympathies with the affectees," Arif Alvi, Pakistan's president, said on Twitter. "I pray for the deceased, the injured & offer condolences to bereaved families. Pakistan stands in solidarity with the people of Afghanistan in this hour of need."

Pope Francis offered condolences to those affected by the quake.

"In the past few hours an earthquake has caused victims and extensive damage in Afghanistan," he said during his weekly audience at the Vatican. "I express my closeness to the injured and those affected by the earthquake, and I pray in particular for those who have lost their lives and their families. I hope that with everyone's help we can alleviate the suffering of the dear Afghan people."

China said it would offer emergency relief assistance to Afghanistan, according to the country's ambassador in Kabul.

"We are willing to provide emergency relief assistance according to the needs of the Afg people," the ambassador said in a tweet, adding that China is in "close contact" with relevant parties.
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