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At least 1,000 dead after earthquake flattens homes in rural Afghanistan

“The situation is quite critical,” Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told NBC News.
/ Source: NBC News

At least 1,000 people were killed after a strong earthquake struck eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, a government spokesperson said.

The magnitude 6.1 quake struck a remote and mountainous area near the border with Pakistan, flattening homes and leaving people trapped beneath the rubble.

A Taliban government spokesman said the death toll had risen to 1,000 from its earlier count of around 300 as more information trickled in from rural parts of the Paktika and Khost provinces hit by the temblor. Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, head of the government media and information center, said in an on-camera statement that at least 500 more people were injured.

NBC News has not independently verified the number of people killed.

“The situation is quite critical,” Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told NBC News earlier Wednesday. “Hundreds of houses are collapsed and we expect heavy human losses and serious damage to the infrastructure.”

Karimi said hundreds of people were still believed to be trapped under the rubble of buildings that collapsed in the earthquake. He said rescue efforts had been launched, but noted that some of the areas affected were in remote locations.

“In this critical situation, we appeal to the international community and philanthropist organizations to come forward and help the Afghan people,” he said.

Afghanistan Earthquake
Soldiers and Afghan Red Crescent Society officials near a helicopter at an earthquake hit area in Afghanistan's Gayan district, Paktika province.Bakhtar News Agency via AFP - Getty Images

His plea comes at a time when much of the international community has left Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover last year, however, which is likely to complicate relief efforts.

United Nations coordinator in Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said in a tweet that U.N. officials were “assessing the needs and responding in the aftermath of the earthquake.”

Offering condolences to the families of those killed, Alakbarov said “response is on its way.”

Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said it had registered the earthquake at a magnitude of 6.1.

Salahuddin Ayubi, an official of Afghanistan’s interior ministry, said Paktika had “badly suffered” in the temblor, while in Khost, more than two dozen people had died, with around 90 injured.

He said rescue efforts were underway and the injured were being taken to hospitals.

Mountainous Afghanistan is known to be vulnerable to earthquakes and has suffered several major temblors in recent years.

In 2015, at least 385 people were killed after an earthquake struck the country’s northeast and neighboring northern Pakistan.

A 6.1 magnitude earthquake in 2002 killed around 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan, while in 1998, a 6.1 magnitude temblor and subsequent tremors in northeast Afghanistan left at least 4,500 people dead, according to The Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com.