Islamabad mobilized the military to begin a rescue mission for survivors of a massive earthquake that has killed hundreds. Roads destroyed in the disaster made it difficult to reach the remote regions most affected.
The search area for victims of a deadly earthquake along the Afghan-Pakistani border was widened on Tuesday as authorities increased the death toll to upwards of 260. That figure is expected to rise further. The magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck in the Hindu Kush mountain range, near Afghanistan’s borders with Pakistan and Tajikistan.
The region’s already weak infrastructure took a beating in the quake, blocking roads and cutting off the most remote areas in need of help. The epicenter of Monday’s earthquake was in the rural Badakhsan province, vast swathes of which are still controlled by the Taliban.
Authorities in Afghanistan were still able to estimate, however, that around 63 people were killed in the disaster and hundreds injured.
Schoolgirls killed in panicked stampede
Around a dozen of the dead in Afghanistan were a group of schoolgirls, all under 16, who were trampled in a crush to escape their swaying school building in the remote province Takhar.
“When the relatives of the dead students came to collect their bodies, they were so distressed that they could not even talk to authorities to record their names,” said Hafizullah Safai, leader of the Takhar health department.
Pakistan sees most of the casualties
Early estimates put the death toll in Pakistan higher, with more than 200 people believed perished and more than 1,800 injured, disaster management authorities said. Islamabad immediately mobilized its army and put all military hospitals on high alert, with the air force ready to assist in search and rescue missions.
The quake lasted about one minute and sent shockwaves that were felt as far away as India and Uzbekistan. Traffic in Kabul came to a standstill as terrified people abandoned their cars as they waited for the quake to stop.
The disaster prompted an outpouring of sympathy from around the world. Even Pakistan’s bitter rival, India, offered its condolences, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeting words of consolation.
The Hindu Kush range is frequently hit by earthquakes. In 2005, a 7.6 magnitude quake that struck there killed more than 75,000 people and displaced a further 3.5 million.