Central Asia (MNN) — A massive 7.5 earthquake rocked northeastern Afghanistan Monday with tremors felt from Pakistan all the way into Central Asia.
Hundreds of dead were found within hours, but officials were bracing for possible further casualties. Rescue teams tried to reach the areas hardest hit by the quake.
Jeff Palmer is the executive director of Baptist Global Response, the Southern Baptist humanitarian organization with which the International Mission Board partners. He says, “We’ve only heard from one on-ground partner. We’re waiting to hear from two more to get a better picture, a clearer assessment, of what’s going on there.”
He goes on to explain, “This earthquake is massive; it affected large areas–the Kush/Himalaya area, which is prone to these types of earthquakes, but at the same time, very sparsely populated.” It struck in roughly the same area of Afghanistan where a massive landslide last May killed hundreds.
Although the epicenter was in Afghanistan, about 158 miles northeast of Kabul, Palmer says, “The first one that’s reported, they basically said they did feel the earthquake, very strongly; but [there’s been] very little damage and very low casualties in the area they were in.” That’s both good and bad. It’s good in the sense that there fewer casualties, but bad because ”when we do find those areas that are hit hard, it’s also hard to access because of the remoteness and also because of the security issues.” The disaster zone is in an area where the Taliban has a big presence and has engaged in battles with Afghan security forces this year.
In Pakistan’s scenic northern Gilgit-Baltisan area, there were concerns of widespread damage. Residents reported numerous landslides and avalanches during the quake. BGR is waiting for information before they can muster a response. Once they know what the needs are, they can mobilize quickly. Church partners are already there. “The other thing is that already in those general areas, they have great relationships with government authorities.” Because of that, Palmer explains, ”If there is a chance for outside organizations to be mobilized to work in those areas, we have some great inroads to do that.”
In northern India, tremors were worst in Jammu and Kashmir states, where widespread power and telephone outages were reported. Those outages are slowing down communication about what’s needed. Palmer says, “Pray for our assessors, that we quickly hear about what’s going on, what can be done so we can come up with a good plan. Pray for our teams as we begin to mobilize…. A lot of them will be local folks, which would be smart: they know the language and culture.” Pray also for “some of our expatriates in the area, that we’ll be wise.”
Finally, the full response plan will unfold within the next couple of days. Food, water, and shelter are among the immediate emergency supplies usually mustered. In this case, another resource joins those mentioned earlier. “This is a very needy area. It’s been a hard-to-get-to area. This earthquake, even as a tragedy and looking at it as something that is affecting human life, [is] interrupting families and communities. It’s also an opportunity to make the love of God known to a place that may not hear the message many times.”