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Deadliest Earthquake in Decades Kills Over 1,000 in Afghanistan

An magnitude 5.9 quake struck southeastern Afghanistan Wednesday morning. Aid may be hampered by struggles of Taliban-led government.

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A number of people crowd around military helicopters transporting injured away from quake-affected areas in Afghanistan.
Video from the Bakhtar state-run news shows military helicopters flying in to pick up injured from quake-affected areas.
Photo: Bakhtar State News Agency (AP)

At least 1,000 people are dead and more than 1,500 were injured after a massive earthquake struck a portion of southeastern Afghanistan early Wednesday morning, according to state-run media and the United Nations. Experts expect the death toll to increase as more victims are accounted for. 

News came flooding in Wednesday morning that an early morning quake woke residents in the dead of night, causing massive destruction to buildings, especially the more rudimentary mud and wood structures found in rural villages. The New York Times cited the United States Geological Survey (USGS) when calling it a 5.9-magnitude earthquake, while AP reported it as 6.1, citing European metrics. The USGS shows the affected area as around 30 miles southwest of Khost, the provincial capital, and south of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul.


The European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre reported the quake was felt by 119 million people from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The USGS said the death toll would likely only rise as the area takes in the full scope of devastation caused by rockslides, landslides, and damaged buildings.


The quake was felt as far as Kabul and in the northern end of Pakistan as well, and that a secondary 4.5 magnitude quake went off 30 miles southwest of Khost an hour later, according to the USGS. The mountainous country is often impacted with quakes that can go as high as magnitude 7.0.

The June 22 quake was the deadliest temblor in the country in decades. A 1998 6.1 magnitude quake killed at least 4,500 people, according to AP. Another deadly 6.4 magnitude quake in western Pakistan killed 166 from both destroyed buildings and landslides back in 2008, according to the USGS. A separate 4.9-magnitude quake in Afghanistan killed 27 back in January.

The state-run news agency Bakhtar reported that helicopters and ambulances from the capital were taking wounded from affected areas to hospitals. The agency included a video they posted to Twitter showing one military helicopter landing in a rural area to pick up wounded.


One person living in the Sperah district in Khost province told the Times that the quake woke him at 1 a.m. Wednesday, and that multiple buildings had been completely destroyed. He confirmed helicopters had been seen transporting the wounded. Residents and aid workers were pulling the dead or injured from the rubble.

Though many suspect that aid might be hard to come by. AP reported that international aid groups in Afghanistan left once the Taliban overthrew the U.S.-backed government back in the summer of 2021. The World Health Organization’s general director Ramiz Alakbarov wrote on Twitter that United Nations humanitarian affairs are “assessing the needs and responding to the aftermath of the earthquake.”


Otherwise, some Afghan as well as some outside humanitarian operations noted they were sending aid, including the Italian medical aid group Emergency and Afghan’s Red Crescent Society, according to reports by the AP and The Washington Post.