A powerful 7.7-magnitude earthquake in northern Afghanistan rocked cities across South Asia.
Strong tremors were felt in Kabul, New Delhi and Islamabad on Monday. In the Pakistani capital, walls swayed back and forth and people poured out of office buildings in a panic, reciting verses from the Quran.
Vineet Gahlot, the director of seismology at the Indian Meteorological Department, said the earthquake had a magnitude of 7.7 and an epicenter deep in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan. Pakistan state TV reported the same magnitude.
The full extent of the damage and the number of possible casualties was not yet known.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah says in a tweet that the earthquake was “the strongest one felt in recent decades. There are reports of heavy casualties caused by the earthquake but exact numbers are yet to be released by government authorities.”
He did not provide further details.
Earlier he called an emergency meeting of disaster officials, which was broadcast live on television. He instructed doctors and hospitals to be prepared to receive and treat casualties.
He said telecommunications have been disrupted in vast parts of the country, preventing the government from getting a concise picture of damage and casualties.
He also called on officials to be prepared for aftershocks.
Other Afghan officials say 33 people were killed nation-wide in Monday’s quake, including 12 schoolgirls who were trampled to death while trying to get out of swaying buildings. Another two people died in India-controlled parts of the disputed Kashmir region.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.5 and occurred at a depth of 212 kilometers (130 miles).