ISLAMABAD, 26th October, 2015 (WAM) — A major earthquake has hit Afghanistan, northern Pakistan and parts of India, with dozens being killed and early reports suggesting it has caused extensive damage in mountainous areas.

The magnitude 7.5 quake was centred in the province of Badakhshan in the Hindu Kush mountain range in Afghanistan’s far north, and occurred at a depth of 130 miles (210km).

Dozens of deaths have been reported, including 12 students killed while trying to escape from a girls’ school in Taloqan, north-east Afghanistan, and six people killed in the eastern province of Nangahar. A police official in Badakhshan said dozens of houses were destroyed in two remote and sparsely populated rural districts, with some damage reported in Fayzabad.

In Pakistan, fears immediately focused on communities in mountainous and isolated communities in the north, which were already vulnerable to landslides after two days of unseasonably heavy rain and snowfall.

Rescue officials said at least 28 people were known to have died in northern tribal areas, 20 in the north-west, three in Gilgit-Baltistan and one in Pakistani Kashmir. Two women were reportedly killed in a house that collapsed in Swat.

In Islamabad, the capital, buildings were shaken for more than two minutes, sending office workers running for safety. The scenes were repeated in other major Pakistani cities, including Lahore and Faisalabad. Some mobile phone users reported that networks had gone dead.

The Pakistani Armed Forces have been instructed to start rescue operations in the quake-hit areas.

India’s northern-most region of Kashmir experienced intense and prolonged tremors, causing panic in areas that were hit by severe flooding last year. Power supplies and most mobile networks were knocked out, and there was structural damage to roads and buildings.

The quake was also felt in the Indian capital, Delhi, though no damage was immediately reported. Office buildings swayed and workers who had just returned from lunch ran out of buildings and gathered in the street or in car parks.

WAM/Rasha/Moran