Kabul, Afghanistan — A strong earthquake struck easternearly Wednesday, killing more than 1,000 people, according to officials from the country’s ruling Taliban regime. Muhammad Amin Hafiza, the head of information and culture in the hard-hit Paktika province, told CBS News on the phone that the death toll in his province alone had climbed over 1,000, with more than 1,500 others wounded.
“Some families have completely vanished,” Hafiza said, as images emerged of collapsed homes across the region.
Information was slow to emerge after the magnitude-5.9 temblor struck Afghanistan’s Khost and Paktika provinces at around 1:30 a.m. local time. The quake was felt across a vast swath of the country, including in the capital Kabul.
The disaster struck just a couple months short of the one-year anniversary of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. The international community has largely left the country since the Islamist group seized control in August 2021 amid the. The relative lack of foreign government and international aid agency staff and infrastructure in the country was likely to complicate relief efforts, but various agencies quickly said help was on the way.
Videos and photos shared on social media showed military helicopters rushing to the area to evacuate the wounded.
Mawlawi Elyas Nasiri, regional director of the Afghan Red Crescent Society in eastern Afghanistan, said ambulances and rescuers had arrived at the scene and efforts were underway to find and help victims. He said it was roughly a 3.5-hour drive from the provincial capital to the earthquake zone, and some people were likely still trapped under the rubble.
Various other organizations, including the United Nations Children’s Fund, other U.N. agencies and the Italy-based EMERGENCY medical charity, said they were mobilizing and deploying resources to help victims of the quake.
A U.N. official in the country said an estimated 2,000 homes had been destroyed in the quake zone.
“We are still not able to get to some of the communities because of landslides and blocked roads,” Sam Mort, chief of Communication, Advocacy & Civic Engagement for UNICEF, told CBS News correspondent Pamela Falk, estimating that 1,800 homes were destroyed in the Gayan district. “That’s around 70% of the homes in that district. And, you know, we fear that there are people still trapped below the rubble.”
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement that President Joe Biden was “monitoring developments and has directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess U.S. response options to help those most affected.”
Sullivan said the U.S. remained “the single largest donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and our humanitarian partners are already delivering medical care and shelter supplies on the ground.”
Kawsar, a resident of a village in Paktika’s Gayan district, told CBS News over the phone that 24 people in his village, including his father, were killed when the quake struck, and more than 30 more wounded.
“Two children and two women are among the victims in one family,” he said, urging the government to provide help immediately.
Another Gayan district resident, 28-year-old Juma Khan, told CBS News’ Sami Yousafzai over the phone that he was “jolted awake” at about 1:30 a.m. and quickly realized it was an earthquake.
“I have never felt such an earthquake in my whole life,” he told CBS News. “I jumped from my room and ran to my brother’s room. It had collapsed on them, and I found his wife dead while my brother and his three children were wounded under debris. It took eight hours to get them out from the rubble.”
“In our village, most of the houses collapsed, dozens were killed and dozens more injured from the impact,” Khan said. “People are digging around the debris with their hands to desperately find those still alive. Taliban government helicopters shift some of the critically injured, but the Taliban do not have the resource and equipment to conduct an effective search and rescue mission.”
The Taliban’s chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said an emergency meeting was held at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, and officials were instructed to provide all possible assistance to the earthquake victims.
Eastern Afghanistan, along with neighboring nations along South Asia’s Hindu Kush mountain range, are highly vulnerable to large earthquakes as the mountains sit over an active geological fault line. Many of the homes, hospitals and other buildings in the region are poorly constructed and when quakes strike, they are prone to collapse.
In 2015, A major quake in 2015 killed more than 200 people in the region. Another temblor of a similar power to Wednesday’s in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan.