Gardez (Afghanistan) (AFP) -
A powerful earthquake struck a remote border region of Afghanistan overnight killing at least 255 people and injuring hundreds more, officials said Wednesday, with the toll expected to rise as rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings.
The 5.9 magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged terrain of the east, where people already live hardscrabble lives in a country in the grip of a humanitarian disaster made worse by the Taliban takeover in August.
'According to the information, the number of earthquake victims so far in the provinces of Paktika and Khost has reached 255 dead and 500 injured,' tweeted government spokesman Mohammad Naeem.
Earlier, another spokesman told AFP many houses were damaged and people still trapped inside.
Yaqub Manzor, a tribal leader from Paktika province, said survivors were mobilising to help those affected.
'The local markets are closed and all the people have rushed to the affected areas,' he told AFP by telephone.
Photographs and video clips posted on social media showed badly damaged mud houses in remote rural areas.
Some footage showed local residents loading victims into a military helicopter.
Even before the Taliban takeover Afghanistan's emergency response teams were stretched to deal with the natural disasters that frequently struck the country.
But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters, an immediate response is often limited.
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes -- especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
Scores of people were killed and injured in January when two quakes struck rural areas in the western province of Badghis, damaging hundreds of buildings.
In 2015, more than 380 people were killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake ripped across the two countries, with the bulk of the deaths in Pakistan.
The latest earthquake came at a time when Afghanistan is battling a severe humanitarian disaster, worsened by the Taliban takeover of the country.
Aid agencies and the United Nations say Afghanistan needs billions of dollars this year to tackle the crisis.
Aid agencies have particularly stressed the need for greater disaster preparedness in Afghanistan, which remains extremely susceptible to recurring earthquakes, floods and landslides.