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Over 139 dead as 7.5 magnitude earthquake jolts Afghanistan and Pakistan

KABUL/PESHAWAR, (Reuters):  A major earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast on Monday, killing at least 135 people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan and sending shock waves as far as New Delhi, officials said.

The death toll could climb in coming days because communications were down in much of the rugged Hindu Kush mountain range where the quake was centred.

In one of the worst incidents, at least 12 girls were killed in a stampede to flee their school building in the northeastern Afghan province of Takhar, just west of Badakhshan province where the tremor’s epicentre was located.

“They fell under the feet of other students,” said Abdul Razaq Zinda, provincial head of the Afghan National Disaster Management Agency, who reported heavy damage in Takhar.

Shockwaves were felt in New Delhi in northern India and across northern Pakistan, where hundreds of people ran out of buildings as the ground rolled beneath them. No deaths were reported in India.

“We were very scared … We saw people leaving buildings, and we were remembering our God,” Pakistani journalist Zubair Khan said by telephone from the Swat Valley northwest of the capital Islamabad.

“I was in my car and, when I stopped my car, the car itself was shaking as if someone was pushing it back and forth.”

The quake was 213 km deep and centred 254 km northeast of Kabul in Badakhshan province. The U.S. Geological Survey initially measured the magnitude at 7.7, then revised it down to 7.5.

Just over a decade ago, a 7.6 magnitude quake in another part of northern Pakistan killed about 75,000 people.

In Afghanistan, a total of 33 were reported dead on Monday. In addition to the 12 schoolgirls in Takhar, seven people died in the eastern province of Nangarhar, two in Nuristan province in the northeast, three in eastern Kunar province and nine in Badakhshan, officials said.

In Pakistan, 102 deaths were reported by early evening, most in northern and northwestern regions bordering Afghanistan, officials told Reuters.

Particularly hard-hit in Pakistan was the northern area of Chitral, where 20 people were killed, police official Shah Jehan said. The death toll was likely to rise because so many areas were cut off from communications, he said.

Journalist Gul Hammad Farooqi, 47, said his house had collapsed. “I was thrown from one side of the road to the other by the strength of the earthquake. I’ve never experienced anything like it,” he said.

“There is a great deal of destruction here, and my house has collapsed, but thankfully my children and I escaped.”

Further south, the city of Peshawar reported two deaths but at least 150 injured people were being treated at the city’s main hospital, the provincial health chief said.

In Afghanistan, international aid agencies working in northern areas reported that cell phone coverage in the affected areas remained down in the hours after the initial quake.

“The problem is we just don’t know. A lot of the phone lines are still down,” said Scott Anderson, deputy head of office for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Kabul.

Badakhshan provincial governor Shah Waliullah Adib said about 400 houses were destroyed but he had no figures on casualties.

“Right now we are collecting information,” he said.

The earthquake struck almost exactly six months after Nepal suffered its worst quake on record on April 25. Including the toll from a major aftershock in May, 9,000 people lost their lives and 900,000 homes were damaged or destroyed there.

The Hindu Kush mountain region is seismically active, with earthquakes the result of the Indian subcontinent driving into and under the Eurasian landmass. Sudden tectonic shifts can cause enormous and destructive releases of energy.

Kashmiri girls stand on a roadside after vacating a building following an earthquake in Srinagar October 26, 2015. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
Kashmiri girls stand on a roadside after vacating a building following an earthquake in Srinagar October 26, 2015. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Quake jolts north India, Modi offers help to Kabul, Islamabad

New Delhi, Oct 26 (IANS) An earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter Scale and with its epicentre in Afghanistan shook large parts of north India, causing widespread panic. Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately offered help to Afghanistan and Pakistan where over a dozen people were killed.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled out of their houses and offices in Delhi and adjoining areas as well as in parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. There were no reports of casualties but there was major damage to property in Kashmir.

The tremors, around 2.40 p.m., were distinctly felt for 30-40 seconds, shaking high-rise buildings all across north India. The epicentre of the quake lay in Jarm in Afghanistan, 256 km northeast of Kabul.

Most multi-storey public and private buildings in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, suffered huge cracks. Dozens of houses and school buildings collapsed in southern and central parts of the Kashmir Valley, officials and residents said.

Traffic came to an abrupt halt as vehicles started swinging on shaking roads in the valley. A traffic flyover in Srinagar developed cracks.

Prime Minister Modi said India was ready to provide help to Kabul and Islamabad.

“Heard about strong earthquake in Afghanistan-Pakistan region whose tremors have been felt in parts of India. I pray for everyone’s safety,” he tweeted.

“I have asked for an urgent assessment, and we stand ready for assistance where required, including Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked people not to panic and said disaster management teams had been activated.

Among the first to tweet in the Modi government was Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who said as if someone with a firm hand was moving her chair.

“Massive, massive… praying,” is how Delhi’s Tourism Minister Kapil Mishra reacted.

As the tremors began, Delhi Metro immediately halted its services all across the capital and in the neighbouring regions of Gurgaon in Haryana and Noida in Uttar Pradesh. Jaipur Metro too followed suit.

A Delhi Metro spokesman told IANS that the services were resumed after officials did a quick check for possible damage to infrastructure and rail tracks.

The worst hit were Afghanistan and Pakistan. There were no immediate reports of casualties from Afghanistan but Pakistani officials said around 13 people had been killed in different parts of the country.

India’s ambassador in Kabul, Amar Singh, told IANS over telephone that he had no report of any casualty or damage to property among Indians.

Afghanistan soon felt a major aftershock — measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale.

The quake was felt in most of the northern parts of Pakistan including major cities like Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Sargodha and Kohat, Dawn and other Pakistani media quoted officials as saying.

Four people were killed in the Bajaur tribal region near the Afghanistan border after buildings collapsed in the area.

A child was killed in Kallar Kahar in Chakwal district and six people were killed in Swat Valley. One woman died in Sargodha in Punjab when a wall collapsed, also injuring 10 people. A man was killed in Kasur district.

At least 200 people were admitted to a hospital in Swat and another 100 in a Peshawar hospital, officials said.

Dunya News said a part of Bala Hissar fort in Peshawar had been damaged.

Pakistan puts its army on alert, and directed it to carry out immediate rescue work in affected areas without waiting for formal orders.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa tweeted that army teams had been sent out for a quick assessment of earthquake damages across the country.

All command military hospitals were placed on high alert.

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