Afghan quake death toll rises further as survivors await aid

Published 9:52 am Wednesday, October 28, 2015

SHANGLA, Pakistan — Afghanistan and Pakistan were scrambling Wednesday to rush aid to survivors of this week’s magnitude-7.5 earthquake as the region’s overall death toll from the temblor rose to 385.

Pakistan’s disaster management authority said the nation’s dead now were at 267, with 220 people killed in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and another 47 elsewhere in the country.

Afghanistan has reported 115 dead and 556 wounded, while three people died on the Indian side of the disputed region of Kashmir.

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The head of the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority, Wais Ahmad Barmak told parliament that 7,630 homes had been destroyed and around 1,000 animals killed. In battered northwestern Pakistan, more than 10,000 homes were damaged, as well as 147 schools, officials said.

The quake, which struck Monday, was centered in Afghanistan’s sparsely populated Badakhshan province bordering Pakistan, Tajikistan and China.

The poverty-stricken region is vast, with mountains and valleys that make it difficult to reach affected areas. Taliban are active in some parts, further complicating access, Barmak said.

Survey teams have been sent to assess casualties and damage in areas that can be reached only on foot or donkey. Once the information they bring back has been assessed, food and non-food supplies would be delivered, Barmak said.

Badakhshan is often hit by earthquakes and other disasters, including floods and landslides. Other regions, too, such as Nuristan and Kunar provinces in the east were presenting access challenges, he told parliament. “We have got some problems like security challenges and road blocks, and unfortunately all roads from Nuristan’s capital to its districts are still blocked and some roads are blocked in Kunar too,” preventing delivery of help.

Meanwhile, funerals of the victims continued Wednesday and in Pakistan’s worst-hit town of Shangla, residents demanded the government’s help to rebuild their homes.

According to Pakistan’s disaster management authority, the quake damaged 10,586 houses in the country’s northwest. Shangla is the worst affected town, with 49 people killed and 228 injured. Another 32 people died in Chitral, the Pakistani town closest to the epicenter of the quake.

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said it had distributed 15,519 tents, 25,700 blankets and tons of food. Further supplies would be delivered to remote areas once roads had been cleared and reopened.

In Shangla, 70-year-old Zurqun Nain said his extended family was living at a relative’s home after the quake damaged his house. “I had my own home before the earthquake. Now I am homeless at this old age,” he said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday to attend a briefing on quake damages. In televised comments, he pledged his government would provide “maximum compensation” to the victims.