Rescue, relief operation begin in quake-affected areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan

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KABUL/ISLAMABAD, (Xinhua) — Rescue and relief work is unfolding in the remote areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan‘s more than 280 people have been killed and about 1,300 others injured after a powerful earthquake hit those areas on Monday, and the international community has expressed its willingness to offer help.

A magnitude-7.8 earthquake with a depth of 210 km hit the Hindu Kush mountain range in northern Afghanistan at 0909 GMT on Monday, according to China Earthquake Networks Center, with strong tremors felt in Pakistan and India.

As the quake caused landslides and suspension of the telecommunication services, fatalities feared to be much higher.

Pakistan, with its northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province being the worst-affected area in the quake, witnessed a death toll of over 220 people so far and about 1,200 others injured, officials said Monday night.

The rescue operation in the affected areas had been started and the government was developing a plan of action to help the victims, said Pakistani Information Minister Pervez Rasheed said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is visiting London, had shortened his trip and would be back home Tuesday to monitor the rescue and relief operation, Rasheed said.

The losses incurred as the result of the quake were still being recorded and a total of 2,000 tents have been dispatched to the affected areas, the Pakistan National Disaster Management Authority said.

In Afghanistan, the death toll has risen to 63, with 30 fatalities in the province of Kunar, the hardest-hit area in Afghanistan, and hundreds of houses have been destroyed or badly damaged.

Najibullah Kamawal, director of the Public Health Department in eastern Nangarhar province, told media that seven people died and 72 other were injured.

“Twelve students of Bibi Hajira girl school lost their lives as part of the school building destroyed due to the quake in Takhar province,” spokesman for Takhar provincial government, Sunatullah Timor, told Xinhua.

Afghanistan’s Natural Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) were collecting reports on casualties and damage across the country, as the number of casualties could increase, State Minister for Disaster Management and Response Wais Barmak said.

Barmak said the NDMA is ready to offer all kinds of humanitarian assistance to the affected families.

Barmak also called upon national and international aid agencies as well as the ministries for defense and interior to be ready for assistance to the affected areas.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the government Abdullah Abdullah, presiding over the meeting of NDMA Monday afternoon, instructed the Ministry for Public Health as well as national and international aid agencies to get ready for cooperation with the quake-hit areas and affected people there.

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has also issued a directive that all government agencies should remain on standby to assist victims of the earthquake and carry out rescue operations if needed.

The international community has expressed its willingness to stand ready for help.

The United Nations said on Monday that it stands ready to support Afghanistan and Pakistan. “United Nations agencies are mobilizing and stand ready to support government-led relief operations in both countries, if requested,” said a statement released by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon‘s spokesperson.

Ban also sent his condolences to the people affected and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.

“The U.S. government has been in touch with the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan and we stand ready to provide any additional support that may be needed,” the U.S. White House press secretary Josh Earnest told a daily press briefing.

The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations has offered assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Russia’s Sputnik News Agency reported on Monday.

“The head of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, Vladimir Puchkov, has sent an official letter to the acting Afghan Minister of Emergency Situations and the Pakistani Chairman of the National Disaster Management Commission, with words of condolences and an offer to help,” the statement said.

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