The quake struck at 1.24 a.m. 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, which is near the country’s border with Pakistan, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).
The quake was recorded at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), according to the US Geological Survey, which has set a yellow quake alert level — indicating a relatively local impact.
Most of the deaths occurred in Paktika province, where 255 people were killed and 155 injured in Jayan, Nika, Barmal and Zhirok provinces, according to the State Ministry of Disaster Management.
The disaster management authority in the neighboring province of Khost said that 25 people were killed and several others were injured, and five people were also killed in Nangarhar province.
Pictures from Paktika state, just south of Khost province, show destroyed houses, one or two walls still standing amid the rubble and broken roof beams.
Local officials and residents have warned that the death toll may rise, according to the state news agency Bakhtar.
In a tweet on Wednesday, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said that a medical team and seven helicopters have been dispatched to the area to take the injured to nearby hospitals.
Najibullah Saeed, an Afghan Water Resources Department expert, said the quake coincided with heavy monsoon rains in the area – making traditional homes, many made of clay and other natural materials, particularly vulnerable to damage.
“The timing of the earthquake (in) the darkness of the night (…) and the shallow depth of 10 kilometers from its epicenter led to a greater number of casualties,” he added.
Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesman for the Taliban, said the quake was “severe” and asked relief agencies to “send urgent teams” to the affected area.
The World Health Organization said in a tweet on Wednesday that its teams are on the ground to respond to emergencies, including providing medicines, casualty services and conducting needs assessments.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif offered his condolences and offered his support in a tweet on Twitter on Wednesday. “Very sad to learn more about the earthquake that struck Afghanistan, which resulted in the loss of innocent lives,” he wrote. “The people of Pakistan share their grief and sorrow with their Afghan brothers. The relevant authorities are working to support Afghanistan in this time of need.”
Pope Francis said he was praying “for those who have lost their lives and for their families,” during his weekly reception on Wednesday. “I hope that assistance will be sent there to help all the suffering of the dear Afghan people.”
The earthquake comes at a time when the country is going through a hunger crisis. Nearly half of the population – 20 million people – suffer from acute hunger, according to a UN-backed report in May. The situation worsened with the Taliban seizing power in August 2021, which prompted the United States and its allies to freeze about $7 billion in the country’s foreign reserves and cut international funding.
The move has crippled an economy already heavily dependent on aid.
CNN’s Hoda Messia contributed to this report.
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