More than 240 dead & Counting

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Earthquake which rocked parts of South Asia killed more than 240 people on Monday, including 12 Afghan girls crushed in a stampede as they fled their collapsing school.

At least 1,000 more were injured and hundreds of homes destroyed as the quake shook a swathe of the subcontinent, sending thousands of frightened people rushing into the streets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

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

Reports of deaths had poured in from different areas of both countries by nightfall.

In one of the worst incidents, 12 students at a girls’ school were killed in a stampede to get out of their school in the northeastern Afghan province of Takhar.

“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 northern India and in Pakistan, where hundreds of people ran out of buildings as the ground rolled beneath them.

“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 Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province.

The US Geological Survey initially measured the quake’s intensity 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 31 were reported dead on Monday including the 12 schoolgirls, seven people in the eastern province of Nangarhar, two in Nuristan province in the northeast and three in eastern Kunar province, officials said.

Phones down

In Pakistan, at least 135 deaths were reported, most in northern and northwestern regions bordering Afghanistan, officials said.

Particularly hard-hit in Pakistan was the northern province of Chitral, where 11 people were killed, police official Shah Jehan said, adding that the death toll was likely to rise because so many areas were cut off from communications.

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,” Farooqi 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 had one death 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 UN 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.

The mountainous 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.

Swaying buildings in north India

As buildings shook throughout north India, hundreds of people poured onto the streets from office blocks, hospitals and homes, AFP reporters and TV footage showed.

The quake was also felt in New Delhi though no damage was immediately reported. Office buildings swayed and workers who had just returned from lunch ran out of buildings and gathered in the street or in parking lots.

Delhi’s Metro ground to a halt during the tremor although the airport continued operating.

“All of around 190 trains plying on the tracks were stopped at the time of the earthquake. The lines and the trains are now being restored after basic inspection of respective lines,” Anuj Dayal, Delhi Metro spokesperson told AFP.

Cell phone networks were down in the Kashmir region where panicked residents also evacuated buildings and school children were seen huddling together outside their school in Srinagar. The tremors lasted at least 40 seconds, with buildings swaying and electrical wires swinging wildly, residents said.

“First I thought somebody had banged the door. But within seconds, the earth began shaking below my feet, and that’s when I ran out of the building,” said government official Naseer Ahmed.

People ran outside, shouting, crying and chanting religious hymns in an effort to keep calm.

“I thought it was the end of the world,” shopkeeper Iqbal Bhat said.

Inspector general of police for the Kashmir region Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gilani said there were no immediate reports of casualties, but that “some bridges and buildings have been damaged,” including a cracked highway overpass.

“There are no reports of loss of life so far. Cell phone networks are down, we are using our wireless network to gather information,” Gilani said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said India was ready to provide assistance to Kabul and Islamabad following the powerful earthquake.

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

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

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