Rescue operations have begun to reveal the full scale of an Afghan earthquake that killed hundreds and caused damage across South Asia.
Officials said that the death toll from the magnitude-7.5 quake that struck on October 26 was continuing to rise as rescuers reached remote areas. As of early October 27, the death toll had risen to more than 300, with at least 241 fatalities and 1,600 injuries recorded in Pakistan.
In Afghanistan -- where the Hindu Kush mountain range in sparsely populated Badakhshan Province was identified as the epicenter of the quake -- at least 115 had been reported killed and hundreds more injured.
Many areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan had already been deluged by two days of unseasonably heavy rain and snowfall, triggering mudslides when the quake and its aftershocks hit. Roads and bridges were washed out in mountainous regions, hampering search-and-rescue operations.
High casualties and extensive damage were recorded in areas of northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border, such as Khyber Pakhtunkwa Province's Swat and Chitral districts. A local official in the Chitral district told AFP that as many as 80,000 people there are without access to drinking water.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned from a trip to the United States and traveled on October 27 to Khyber Pakhtunkwa Province, where at least 49 people were killed, to assess the damage. During a later briefing in the capital, Islamabad, he gave assurances that Pakistan was "capable enough to rescue and rehabilitate those affected by the earthquake."
Some 330 kilometers east of the epicenter, in Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region, video images emerged on social media of a landslide near a popular suspension bridge:
In the garrison city of Rawalpindi, close to Islamabad, video showed a bridge swaying when the quake struck.
Pakistan’s powerful army has taken a lead role in responding to the crisis, with extra resources being sent to affected regions.
Thousands of people in the region, expecting aftershocks, reportedly spent the night of October 26-27 outdoors in near-freezing temperatures.
Afghan officials said at least 74 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more injured, with casualties reported from around half a dozen of the country’s 34 provinces. The Kabul government has called for international aid agencies to send help.
For Afghanistan, the challenge of mounting rescue operations will be made harder given the country’s relative lack of resources, difficult terrain, and the presence of anti-government Taliban insurgents in some of the affected areas.
The Taliban issued a statement saying its militants had been ordered to provide "complete help" to victims of the quake and to pave the way for access by rescue workers and aid organizations.
The Afghan government estimated that about 4,000 homes had been destroyed or damaged.
The quake was felt throughout South Asia, including the Tajik capital, Dushanbe; areas of southern Kazakhstan 1,000 kilometers north of the epicenter; and in India's capital, Delhi.
In Indian-controlled Kashmir, video showed a frantic street scene as the quake hit.
The October 26 earthquake's epicenter, centered near Jurm in northeastern Afghanistan, was just a few hundred kilometers from the site of a magnitude-7.6 quake that struck in October 2005, killing more than 75,000 people and displacing some 3.5 million more.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, dawn.com, The Guardian, and AP