Pakistan plane carrying aid joins Afghan quake relief effort

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani military cargo plane carrying relief goods for Afghanistan’s earthquake-affected people landed at the Khost airport Saturday, officials said, as tents, food and medical supplies rolled into the mountainous region.

Thousands were left homeless or injured by this week’s powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan, which state media said killed 1,150 people. An aftershock Friday took five more lives.

Among the dead from Wednesday’s magnitude 6 quake are 121 children and that figure is expected to climb, said the U.N. children’s agency representative in Afghanistan. He said close to 70 children were injured.

Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador in the Afghan capital of Kabul, said relief goods dispatched by Pakistan on Saturday were handed over to Taliban officials.

Earlier, Pakistan’s government and a Pakistani charity had sent 13 trucks carrying food, tents, life saving medicines and other essential items to Afghanistan.

A 19-member team from the neighboring country comprised of physicians and paramedics has been helping Afghanistan’s Taliban-run government in Khost, providing medical treatment for those injured in Wednesday’s earthquake.

The quake struck a remote, deeply impoverished region of small towns and villages tucked among rough mountains near the Pakistani border, collapsing stone and mud-brick homes and in some cases killing entire families. Nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Paktika and Khost provinces, state media reported.

Officials said Pakistan has opened its border in the northwest to transport critically injured Afghans to hospitals in Pakistan. But it was unclear how many Afghans have arrived in Pakistan’s northwest from the quake-affected areas for medical treatment.

Overstretched aid agencies said the disaster underscored the need for the international community to rethink its financial cut-off of Afghanistan since Taliban insurgents seized the country 10 months ago. That policy, halting billions in development aid and freezing vital reserves, has helped push the economy into collapse and plunge Afghanistan deeper into humanitarian crises and near famine. The effort to help the victims has been slowed both by geography and by Afghanistan’s decimated condition.

Rutted roads through the mountains, already slow to drive on, were made worse by quake damage and rain. The International Red Cross has five hospitals in the region, but damage to the roads made it difficult for those in the worse-hit areas to reach them, said Lucien Christen, ICRC spokesman in Afghanistan.

Also on Saturday, an Afghan military chopper transported food and other necessities to people in Gayan district in Paktika province. Dozens of men and children gathered in an open area under the hot sun to wait for food, water and tents from the Afghan Red Crescent.

The aid organization said it would distribute relief items to around 1,000 families in the district, including food, tents and clothes.

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Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.

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