Afghan-Pakistan quake draws aid appeals

  • 28/10/2015
Residents search for belongings in the rubble of a house after it was damaged by the earthquake (Reuters)
Residents search for belongings in the rubble of a house after it was damaged by the earthquake (Reuters)

By Masroor Gilani

Desperate survivors are appealing for food and blankets after a devastating earthquake killed more than 360 people in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban urged relief agencies to push ahead with aid deliveries to victims of Monday's powerful earthquake, which destroyed thousands of homes, triggered landslides and stampedes, and knocked out communication lines.

Mass burial ceremonies were conducted in both countries as officials warned that the death toll could spike as entire communities remain inaccessible amid freezing winter conditions.

Pakistani officials were unable to reach authorities in the remote district of Kohistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province for a second day to see how its population of nearly half a million people had fared.

"There is no way to communicate with the officials in Kohistan, the communication lines have been disrupted and roads blocked, so we cannot say anything about the damage there," a police official in the northwestern city of Peshawar told AFP.

The bulk of the casualties recorded so far are in Pakistan, where 248 people were killed, including 202 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and more than 1600 injured, disaster management authorities said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew to Shangla in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - believed to be one of the worst-hit districts with 49 reported dead so far - where he pledged compensation for damaged homes, state media reported.

In Gandao village in Shangla the quake left homes completely flattened or riddled with cracks, forcing most of the population to camp out in the open amid freezing winter rain.

People desperately appealed to the government for quilts, blankets, sweaters and food rations as snowy conditions set in.

"We have nothing to eat and wear in the cold," resident Hakim Khan, 60, whose 12-year-old nephew was killed in the quake.

"My family members are forced to wait for help under the open sky."

Afghan officials said at least 115 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more injured, with casualties reported from about half a dozen of the country's 34 provinces, and more than 7600 homes reported damaged.

In one of the most horrifying incidents to emerge so far, a dozen Afghan schoolgirls were trampled to death as they rushed to escape their classrooms in remote northern Takhar province when the quake struck.

Bystanders rushed the dazed and terrified survivors to hospital, many lying limp in the arms of their rescuers, as doctors tried reviving some of them by pumping their chests.

Flag-draped coffins arrived at a local cemetery on Tuesday as tearful relatives of the girls gathered for mass burials, as some of the survivors were flown in military choppers to Kabul for treatment.