Magnitude 5.9 earthquake hits Afghanistan, killing at least 1,000

seismic data overlain over map of afghanistan showing epicenter and shock waves of recent earthquake
The star marks the epicenter of a recent earthquake that originated about 29.1 miles (46.8 kilometers) southwest of the city of Khōst. (Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey)

A powerful earthquake rattled eastern Afghanistan in the early hours of Wednesday morning (June 22), killing at least 1,000 people and wounding hundreds more, although casualty numbers are expected to rise. State-level disaster management officials reported at least 600 injured, while local officials put the count closer to 1,500, according to Reuters (opens in new tab).

The European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre initially estimated (opens in new tab) the quake's magnitude to be 6.1, but the organization has since reported (opens in new tab) a slightly lower magnitude of 5.9. This latter estimate matches the one reported by the U.S. Geological Survey (opens in new tab) (USGS).  

The earthquake's epicenter was about 29.1 miles (46.8 kilometers) southwest of the city of Khōst, which sits near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, according to the USGS. Earthquakes in this region occur due to the India plate shifting northward and colliding with the adjacent Eurasia plate; the India plate moves northward at a rate of about 1.6 inches (40 millimeters) per year.

Southwest of the Himalayas, the two plates slide against each other at a slant. Based on the pattern of seismic waves from Wednesday's quake, the event mostly involved "strike-slip faulting," in which vertical fractures appear at locations where the tectonic plates have rubbed against each other horizontally, the USGS reported. The quake occurred at a relatively shallow depth of 6.2 miles (10 km).

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So far, most confirmed deaths from the quake have been reported in Paktika province, south of Khost province, of which Khōst is the capital city, CNN reported (opens in new tab)

"The timing of the earthquake [in the] dark of night … and the shallow depth of 10 kilometers of its epicenter led to higher casualties," Najibullah Sadid, an Afghan water resources management expert, told CNN. Photos released from Paktika province showed the crumbled remains of houses piled up around a few surviving walls, with broken roof beams strewn about the area, CNN reported.

"The death toll is likely to rise as some of the villages are in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to collect details," interior ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi told Reuters (opens in new tab).  

Originally published on Live Science.

Nicoletta Lanese
News Editor, Health

Nicoletta Lanese is a news editor on Live Science's health desk. She first joined the publication in 2019 as a staff writer. She holds degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her work has appeared in The Scientist Magazine, Science News, The San Jose Mercury News and Mongabay, among other outlets.