Hundreds die and thousands made homeless in Afghanistan and Pakistan as powerful earthquake rocks South Asia.
The afternoon before the earthquake struck in Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of India, Lal Mohammed, a driver based in Islamabad drove back – along with his family – to his hometown in Bajaur Agency, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to attend his aunt’s funeral.
Little did he know that a few hours later he had to attend the funeral of his three children.
At least 262 people were killed in Pakistan and 115 in Afghanistan when the powerful 7.5-magnitude quake struck Afghanistan and rocked neighbouring Pakistan, causing heavy damage to some of the world’s poorest and conflict prone regions.
The quake was 213km deep and centred 254km northeast of Kabul, according to the US Geological survey.
Communication services were disrupted in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of the quake, as phone lines were flooded by people trying to reach family members and loved-ones.
Lal Mohammed left behind his three children at home and headed with his wife to the funeral of his aunt a few blocks away. As he felt the tremors, he knew his children were unsafe.
“The earthquake was so strong that I could feel my body swinging,” Mohammed said. “I ran back home as soon as the earthquake stopped. But I guess it was too late by then.”
Mohammed’s three children were killed when the celling of their mud-built house collapsed. The youngest one was only five years old.
“I just buried them a while ago. I could never imagine they would be taken away from me this way. My wife is in a state of shock and is not responding.”
Dealing with loss
At least 130 of Pakistan’s victims fell in the northern valley of Swat and Malakand division of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Over 800 homes were destroyed or damaged, according to authorities, who said the death toll was expected to rise.
Usman Khan from Malakand said he lost two cousins aged 16 and 17 in the quake, leaving behind a mourning mother.
“She was a single mother living with her two kids. Both the children died when the roof of their house collapsed on them,” Usman told Al Jazeera. “My aunt lost her husband just a few months ago. And now she lost her kids too.”
Usman closed down his shop for the day and decided to stay home.
Hospital officials said that because of lack of immediate medical assistance in the tribal areas, many of the injured were brought to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.
“Most of the patients we received required orthopedic and neurosurgery assistance. Most deaths are caused by head injuries,” Dr. Wasiullah Khan told Al Jazeera.
“We are trying our best to accommodate as many patients as possible but looking at the number of people affected by the quake, we are requesting the authorities for more medical support.”
All private schools and colleges in Pakistan will remain closed on Tuesday to avoid risks of aftershocks.
According to Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, spokesperson for the provincial governor in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan, said an emergency meeting was held to avoid damages from possible aftershocks.
“From my information, there is a slight chance of aftershocks, which may cause some damage too,” said Abdulzai.
“We are working on providing rapid medical assistance and essential aid to people in advance.”
Kunar province in the northeast of Afghanistan has the highest death toll compared to other areas in Afghanistan.
Bilal Sarwary, a resident of Sawkay district in Kunar, tweeted that eight members of one family died in the earthquake.
“A rooftop collapsed on 18 members of the same family in the district of Sawkay, leaving eight dead and 10 others seriously injured,” the tweet said.
As some areas are still undergoing military operations against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, rescuers were battling to access affected areas under Taliban control.
However, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told Al Jazeera that fighters were ordered to cooperate with aid organisations.
“The Islamic Emirate ordered all mujahideen in affected areas to cooperate with aid organisations in providing food and medical supplies to the victims of this earthquake,” Mujahid told Al Jazeera.
“The mujahideen will facilitate those giving charity to the needy.”
Person Finder service
As the earthquake took its toll, Google has launched its Person Finder service for the second time. The service was first created in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Google said it was allowing users to feed information in Urdu, the official language in Pakistan while working on versions in Pashto and Dari for Afghan users.
Facebook has also launched a similar service called the Safety Check after the devastating quake in Nepal. The service allows friends on the social networking site to know if they are OK.
South Asia has a history of deadly earthquakes, especially in the mountainous areas.
In April, Nepal hit the worst earthquake in 80 years that killed 8,700. In October 2005, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake that hit the northern areas of Pakistan resulted in more than 80,000 fatalities, 200,000 people injured and more than four million people left homeless.
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