t least nine people were killed and dozens of others were injured after a strong earthquake shook northern Pakistan and was felt in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, and India's capital New Delhi late Tuesday.
Reports of the extent of the destruction began gradually trickling in from remote areas, but daybreak would reveal a fuller picture.
Residents in Islamabad fled their homes as walls started swaying and the 30-second lasting quake was felt across the country. Pakistan's meteorological office said the earthquake was a magnitude 7.7 but the Pakistan Meteorological Department revised it down to 6.8.
The meteorological agency said the quake was centered in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan's border areas.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was a magnitude 6.5.
The quake epicenter was 40 kilometers (25 miles) south-southeast of the Afghan town of Jurm, near the borders with Pakistan and Tajikistan.
It struck at a depth of more than 185 miles, USGS said.
"People ran out of their houses and were reciting the Koran," an AFP correspondent in Rawalpindi said, with similar reports coming from the capital Islamabad, Lahore and elsewhere in the country.
Two people, including a child, were killed in Laghman province, Shafiullah Rahimi, spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Natural Disaster Management, told AFP.
Government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said health centers across the country had been put on high alert.
Noor Mohammad Hanifi, a shopkeeper in Kabul, set up tents in a street for his family to spend the night in.
"Nobody dares to go inside their homes," Hanifi told AFP as his family, cloaked in blankets, took shelter.
Hanafi said he felt dizzy when the quake hit as he had just returned from a long trip.
"But when I heard the doors and windows shaking I realized it was an earthquake."
'We all ran out'
In Pakistan, frightened people fled their homes as the tremor hit.
"People ran out of their houses and were reciting the Koran," said an AFP correspondent in Pakistan's city of Rawalpindi.
Ikhlaq Kazmi, a retired professor in the city, said his entire house started shaking.
"The children started shouting that there is an earthquake," he said. "We all ran out."
Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered the National Disaster Management Authority to be ready to deal with any emergency.
At least 180 people who suffered minor injuries were taken to hospitals across the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, Shahidullah Khan, a senior government official, told AFP.
There are children among the dead, according to the National Disaster Management Authority. The agency said at least 30 people were injured.
Most deaths have occurred in the country’s remote north-western region that borders Afghanistan, the agency said. The casualties were caused by collapsing houses and crumbling walls.
A state of emergency has been declared in most mountainous districts in the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the worse affected region, according to local officials.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has ordered the disaster agencies to reach the remote regions as soon as possible, his secretariat said.
In Afghanistan, many families were out of their homes celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, when the quake struck.
"I heard people screaming and yelling as they came out in the streets," said Masieh, who was outside with his family when the tremor hit.
"It's possible that there could be another tremor so I'm still waiting outside."
Those indoors also quickly left their houses and apartments.
"They just fled without wearing shoes, just carrying their children in their hands," an AFP correspondent said.
In June of last year more than 1,000 people were killed and tens of thousands made homeless after a 5.9-magnitude quake — the deadliest in Afghanistan in nearly a quarter of a century— struck the impoverished province of Paktika.
Over 55,000 people were killed by an earthquake that struck southeastern Türkiye and parts of Syria last month.
Afghanistan is in the grips of a humanitarian disaster made worse by the Taliban takeover of the country in August 2021.
International development funding on which the South Asian country relied dried up after the takeover and assets held abroad were frozen.
The area is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
A magnitude 6.1 earthquake in eastern Afghanistan killed over 1,000 people last year.