Update: This file has been updated throughout with new details on the death toll. A powerful earthquake struck a rural, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, killing 1,000 people and injuring 1,500 more, according to a state-run news agency. Officials warned that the already grim toll would likely rise, reports the AP. Information remained scarce on the magnitude 6.1 temblor near the Pakistani border, but quakes of that strength can cause severe damage in an area where homes and other buildings are poorly constructed and landslides are common. Experts put the depth at just 6 miles—another factor that could increase the impact.
Rescuers rushed to the area by helicopter, but the response is likely to be complicated since many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover of the country last year and the chaotic withdrawal of the US military from the longest war in its history. Neighboring Pakistan's Meteorological Department said the quake's epicenter was in Afghanistan's Paktika province, some 31 miles southwest of the city of Khost. Buildings were also damaged in Khost province, and tremors were felt as far away as the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
The death toll given by the Bakhtar News Agency was equal to that of a quake in 2002 in northern Afghanistan that struck immediately after the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban government. Those are the deadliest since 1998, when a 6.1 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan's remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people. In most places in the world, an earthquake of this magnitude wouldn't inflict such extensive devastation, says Robert Sanders, a seismologist with the US Geological Survey. But a quake's death toll more often comes down to geography, building quality, and population density. "Because of the mountainous area, there are rockslides and landslides that we won't know about until later reporting," Sanders says. "Older buildings are likely to crumble and fail." (Read more Afghanistan stories.)