Twelve Afghan schoolgirls are among at least 200 dead and 1800 injured after a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the northeastern tip of Afghanistan on Monday.
The shock, which lasted at least one minute, rippled through nearby India and Tajikistan, seemingly hitting Pakistan the worst.
The US Geological Survey put the epicentre in the Jurm district of the northeast Afghan province of Badakshan, 250 kilometres from the capital Kabul and at a depth of 213km.
“Initial reports show a big loss of life,” Afghanistan’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah said.
At least 60 were confirmed dead in Afghanistan and 150 in Pakistan, with none yet reported in India and Tajikistan.
Six aftershocks followed the initial quake, measuring between 4.1 and 4.8 at a similar depth.
Epicentre in northeast Afghanistan
The epicentre is close to the site of a much shallower quake in October 2005, which killed more than 75,000 people, displacing some 3.5 million more.
Though it began in Afghanistan, the epicentre was in sparsely populated mountains. Thousands of homes were destroyed in Badakshan province, but reported death tolls were worst in dense population areas in neighbouring Pakistan.
Casualties were reported in the Afghan provinces of Takhar, Panjshir, Nuristan and Kunar, which border Badakshan. Shocks were reportedly felt in at least six provinces beyond.
In one of the most tragic incidents, a panicked evacuation at a girls’ school killed at least 12 students in Takhar.
“They fell under the feet of other students,” said Abdul Razaq Zinda, provincial head of the Afghan National Disaster Management Agency, who reported heavy damage in Takhar.
Traffic came to a stop in the capital of Kabul, with people getting out of their cars as they waited for the quake to pass.
Deadly in Pakistan
Hardest hit in Pakistan was the northern province of Chitral, where 20 people were killed, Chitral police official Shah Jehan said.
“We are not able to contact people in remote areas due to telephone lines being down, so there are chances that the death toll could rise,” he said.
Further south, the city of Peshawar reported two deaths and at least 150 injuries, the provincial health chief said.
Dr Muhammad Sadiq, the head of emergency services at a government hospital in Peshawar, said the injured were still being brought in.
“Many are still under rubble,” Mr Sadiq said.
“The building was swinging like a pendulum, it felt as if the heavens would fall.”
Pakistan mobilised its troops and all military hospitals have been put on high alert, army spokesman Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa said, adding that specialised earthquake rescue machinery and army helicopters were being readied for use.
Felt as far away as India
As buildings shook throughout north India, hundreds of people poured onto the streets from office blocks, hospitals and homes.
Delhi’s metro ground to a halt during the tremor, although the airport continued operating.
“All of around 190 trains plying on the tracks were stopped at the time of the earthquake. The lines and the trains are now being restored after basic inspection of respective lines,” Anuj Dayal, Delhi Metro spokesman said.
Mobile phone networks were down in the Kashmir region where panicked residents also evacuated buildings, and school children were seen huddling together outside their school in the main city of Srinagar.
“Some bridges and buildings got damaged. There are no reports of loss of life so far. Cell phone networks are down, we are using our wireless network to gather information,” said inspector general of police for the Kashmir region, Javid Gillani.
Many buildings were badly damaged during massive floods a year ago, heightening the danger that they would have collapsed during the quake.
The earthquake struck almost exactly six months after Nepal suffered its worst quake on record, on April 24. Including the toll from a major aftershock in May, 9000 people lost their lives and 900,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.
-with Jackson Stiles, Emma Manser and agencies