The death toll from a devastating earthquake in Afghanistan has risen to 920, with over 600 wounded, according to a senior official.
“This is initial information and it may continue to rise,’’ the Taliban’s deputy minister of disaster management, Mawlawi Sharafuddin Muslim, told journalists during a press conference in Kabul.
An earlier condolence message by the Taliban’s supreme leader stated that only up to 300 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in the tragedy.
The 6.1-magnitude quake had affected the country’s Paktika and Khost provinces the most.
It was not immediately clear how many houses were destroyed or damaged in the region due to the extent of the crisis.
In some areas, whole villages were destroyed, the official said at the conference.
The authorities in Kabul said military helicopters, as well as ambulances from neighbouring provinces, had been dispatched to the scene to speed up the rescue operation for the victims, who were mostly trapped under rubble.
But the mountainous and deserted areas made the rescue operations difficult, according to the country’s state minister for disaster management.
“There is a huge horror everywhere. The parents can’t find their children and vice versa, everyone is asking who is alive or dead,’’ Rahim Khan Khushal,
Khushal, a local journalist said he visited the worst-hit Gayan district in Paktika.
He explained that all the houses in the village were made of mud and all had been destroyed.
“The jolt has not given the people the chance to leave their houses,’’ he added.
Several countries in the region such as Pakistan, China and India were quick to extend their condolence messages.
A United Nations official in Afghanistan said the agency was assessing the need to respond accordingly.
Pope Francis also prayed for the victims.
“I express my closeness to the injured and to those affected by the earthquake,’’ Pope Francis said.
Pope, head of the Catholic Church told the faithful and visitors in St Peter’s Square in Rome at the end of the general audience on Wednesday.
Earthquakes are common in the region and often cause significant damage.