New Delhi: A major earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter Scale struck the remote Afghan northeast on Monday, killing at least 63 people in Afghanistan and 223 in Pakistan, injuring hundreds and sending shock waves as far as large parts of north India, sparking panic in the region, damaging property in Jammu and Kashmir, according to officials, with the toll set to rise.
The US Geological Survey said the epicentre of the earthquake was near Jurm in the Hindu Kush mountains, in the sparsely populated province of Badakhshan, which borders Pakistan, Tajikistan and China. It said the epicentre was 213 kilometres deep and 73 kilometres south of the provincial capital, Fayzabad.
The massive earthquake, which lasted for at least a minute, was followed by at least two aftershocks of magnitudes 4.8 and 4.7 respectively, according to the USGS.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on the incident, expressing condolences for the lives lost in the tragedy. He also spoke to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, offering support to all the three.
Pakistan worst-hit country Even though the epicentre was in Afghanistan, Pakistan was the country worst hit by the disaster.
Pakistani officials said the death toll in their country from the Afghan earthquake had risen to 145. Inayatullah Khan, Pakistan's provincial minister, said the death toll from earthquake in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone had jumped to 123.
Pakistani media also reported that five people were killed in Punjab province, and four in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
More than 1,300 others were injured, according to PTI. 956 of the injured were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone. Malakand Division in the province was the worst hit with 74 dead.
The temblor collapsed buildings, triggered landslides and stampedes, prompting the government to rush army personnel to the affected areas for rescue operations.
Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif flew to some affected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to assess the rescue operation in the region that is the worst hit.
"The army chief has landed at Corps Headquarters in Peshawar. Corps Commander (Peshawar Hidayat-ur-Rehman) has briefed him on damage assessment," Director-General of Pakistan military's media wing ISPR Lt-Gen Asim Bajwa tweeted.
The army chief took aerial view of quake-hit areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and was also briefed about army rescue and relief operation.
Bajwa also said that Quick Rapid Forces (QRFs) have spread out in respective areas.
"QRFs are busy in rescue work mainly in Malakand, Dir, Chitral and Bajaur while continuous damage assessment is under way," he added.
The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has directed the district administration to utilise rescue and relief funds.
Emergency has been declared in all government hospitals and food and necessary items were dispatched to the affected areas.
Reportedly, several buildings collapsed in various areas of the province mostly in northern parts in Chitral, Swat, Shangla, Dir and Buner districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) said that the quake hit the country at about 2:09 pm local time.
Several landslides have been reported in mountainous areas of the country, leading to fears that the death toll may increase.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed all federal, civil, military and provincial agencies to declare an immediate alert and mobilise all resources to ensure the security of citizens of Pakistan. All agencies have been directed to move out with their resources.
The Prime Minister also told the Gilgit Baltistan governor to mobilise tribal administration immediately for relief, rescue and damage assessment in the affected regions.
At least 36 people were confirmed dead in Afghanistan, reported AFP. The death toll is expected to rise in Afghanistan also.
Horrifying news emerged of at least 12 schoolgirls being trampled to death in a northern Afghan province.
"The students rushed to escape the school building in Taluqan city (capital of Takhar), triggering a stampede," Takhar education department chief Enayat Naweed told AFP.
"Twelve students, all minors, were killed and 35 others were injured."
The death toll in Afghanistan also included nine in Badakhshan province near the epicentre, eight in Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan and at least two in northern Baghlan province, according to local officials.
"Initial reports show a big loss of life, huge financial losses in Badakhshan, Takhar, Nangarhar, Kunar and other regions, including the capital Kabul," said Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.
"Exact numbers are not known because phone lines are down and communication has been cut off in many areas," Abdullah said, adding that the government has asked aid agencies for relief.
"The quake wrecked huge devastation in some districts," said the governor of Badakhshan province, Shah Wali Adib. "So far 1,500 homes are reported to be damaged or destroyed."
Gul Mohammad Bidar, deputy governor of Badakhshan, told AFP lines were down and it was difficult to reach stricken communities.
"The earthquake was very powerful - buildings have been damaged (in Faizabad) and there are possible casualties," he said.
Tremors were also felt in most parts of North India including Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, New Delhi and even Gujarat.
Two elderly women died of cardiac arrest in Kashmir Valley apparently due to panic triggered by earthquake, which also killed a youth in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir, reported PTI.
Ten people, including two army soldiers, were injured in the earthquake. Nearly three dozen buildings and public infrastructure were also damaged due to it in Kashmir Valley.
Sixty-five year old Zoona Begum of Mohalla Mir Sahab in old town Baramulla suffered a massive heart attack as she was rushing towards a safer place when the earthquake hit around 2:40 pm, police said.
Another elderly woman died in similar circumstances in Bijbehara area of south Kashmir's Anantnag district, a police official said. Fatima, 80, of Ahangar Mohalla was pronounced dead by doctors as she was taken to district hospital Anantnag, the official said.
In Reasi district, a 16-year-old youth was killed while his father received serious injuries after they were hit by shooting stones triggered by earthquake.
Meanwhile, two army personnel were injured when their bunker collapsed after tremors in Sopore town of Baramulla district, 55 kms from Srinagar.
The bunker collapsed inside Ganjoo house, where an army unit is camping, injuring to two soldiers, following which they were taken to the hospital, an official said.
He said six persons were reported injured in Pulwama district of south Kashmir, while another person jumped from the window of his house during the tremor and suffered fracture.
Quoting preliminary information, the official said over two dozen residential houses and six police buildings suffered damages in different parts of Kashmir Valley.
"We are still collecting the details and the figures of the damage to the public and private infrastructure might go up," he said.
(With Agency inputs)