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Aftershock hits eastern Afghanistan after quake death toll rises to 1,150

Afghans carry a relative killed in an earthquake to a burial site in Gayan village, in Paktika province (Ebrahim Nooroozi/AP)
Afghans carry a relative killed in an earthquake to a burial site in Gayan village, in Paktika province (Ebrahim Nooroozi/AP)

An aftershock has shaken a hard-hit area of eastern Afghanistan, two days after an earthquake destroyed hundreds of mud-brick homes and killed at least 1,150 people.

Pakistan’s Meteorological Department reported a 4.2 magnitude quake in south-eastern Afghanistan that the state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported claimed five more lives in hard-hit Gayan District and injured 11 people.

The country of 38 million people was already in the midst of a spiralling economic crisis that had plunged millions deep into poverty with over a million children at risk of severe malnutrition.

The magnitude six quake has left thousands without shelter.

State media reported that close to 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Wednesday’s earthquake.

Aid organisations like the local Red Crescent and World Food Programme have stepped in to assist the most vulnerable families with food and other emergency needs like tents and sleeping mats in Paktika province, the epicentre of the earthquake, and neighbouring Khost province.

A man stands among the destruction in Gayan village
A man stands among the destruction in Gayan village (Ebrahim Nooroozi/AP)

Still, residents appeared to be largely on their own to deal with the aftermath as their new Taliban-led government and the international aid community struggle to bring in help.

Villagers have been burying their dead and digging through the rubble by hand in search of survivors.

The Taliban director of the state-run Bakhtar News Agency said on Friday the death toll had risen to 1,150 people from previous reports of 1,000 killed.

Abdul Wahid Rayan said at least 1,600 people were injured.

The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has put the death toll at 770 people.

It was not clear how death toll counts are being reached, given the difficulties of accessing and communicating with the impacted villages.

Either grim toll would make the quake Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades.

In the district of Gayan, at least 1,000 homes were damaged by the earthquake.

Another 800 homes in the Spera district of Khost province were also damaged.

Afghan children stand in front of a tent after the earthquake
Afghan children stand in front of a tent after the earthquake (Ebrahim Nooroozi/AP)

While modern buildings withstand magnitude six earthquakes elsewhere, Afghanistan’s mud-brick homes and landslide-prone mountains make such quakes more dangerous.

In villages across Gayan district, toured by Associated Press journalists for hours on Thursday, families who had spent the previous rainy night out in the open lifted pieces of timber of collapsed roofs and pulled away stones by hand, looking for missing loved ones.

Taliban fighters circulated in vehicles in the area, but only a few were seen helping dig through the rubble.

There was little sign of heavy equipment — only one bulldozer was spotted being transported.

Ambulances circulated, but little other help to the living was evident.

Many international aid agencies withdrew from Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power last August.

Those that remain are scrambling to get medical supplies, food and tents to the remote quake-struck area, using shoddy mountain roads made worse by damage and rains.

A man stands among the destruction in Gayan village, in Paktika province
A man stands among the destruction in Gayan village, in Paktika province (Ebrahim Nooroozi/AP)

UN agencies are also facing a £2.44 billion funding shortfall for Afghanistan this year.

Germany, Norway and several other countries announced they were sending aid for the quake, but underscored that they would work only through UN agencies, not with the Taliban, which no government has officially recognised yet.

Trucks of food and other necessities arrived from Pakistan, and planes full of humanitarian aid landed from Iran and Qatar.

India sent humanitarian relief and a technical team to the capital, Kabul, to co-ordinate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

India says its aid will be handed over to a UN agency on the ground and the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

In Paktika province, the quake shook a region of deep poverty, where residents scrape out in a living in the few fertile areas among the rough mountains.

Roads are so difficult that some villages in Gayan District took a full day to reach from Kabul, though it is only 110 miles away.

One six-year-old boy in Gayan wept as he said his parents, two sisters and a brother were all dead.

He had fled the ruins of his own home and took refuge with the neighbours.