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Ekeomah Atuonwu

Authorities have confirmed that an earthquake rocked eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, killing at least 255 people.

The magnitude 6 quake that shook Paktika province remained unknown, but it comes as the international world has mostly fled Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country last year, during the chaotic exit of the United States forces from the longest war in its history.

This is expected to hinder any assistance efforts for the 38 million-person country.

The death toll was announced by the state-run Bakhtar news agency, which also stated that rescuers were approaching by helicopter. According to the news agency’s director-general, Abdul Wahid Rayan, 90 houses have been damaged in Paktika, and scores of people are reported to be trapped beneath the wreckage.

Footage from Paktika province near the Pakistan border showed victims being carried into helicopters to be airlifted from the area. Images widely circulating online from the province showed destroyed stone houses, with residents picking through clay bricks and other rubble.

Local news agency, Bakhtar, posted footage of a resident receiving IV fluids from a plastic chair outside the rubble of his home and others sprawled on gurneys.

“A severe earthquake shook four districts of Paktika province, killing and injuring hundreds of our countrymen and destroying dozens of houses,” Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, separately wrote on Twitter.

“We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further catastrophe.”

Authorities in neighboring Khost province suspect scores of people were hurt or killed in the earthquake, according to Rayan.

The earthquake had a magnitude of 6.1, according to Pakistan’s Meteorological Department. Tremors were reported in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, as well as other parts of the eastern Punjab province.

Some distant regions of Pakistan reported damage to homes near the Afghan border, but it wasn’t clear if this was due to rain or the earthquake, according to Taimoor Khan, a disaster management spokeswoman in the area.

In a statement, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif expressed his sympathies for the earthquake and stated that his country will assist the Afghan people.

A powerful earthquake in the country’s northeast in 2015 killed over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighboring northern Pakistan. A comparable 6.1 earthquake in northern Afghanistan in 2002 killed around 1,000 people.

In addition, at least 4,500 people died in 1998 during a 6.1-magnitude earthquake and following aftershocks in Afghanistan’s distant northeast.

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Ekeomah Atuonwu

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