CNN  — 

Desperate search and rescue operations were underway in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday following an earthquake that killed more than 1,000 people, a heavy blow for a country already facing a dire economic and humanitarian crisis.

The magnitude 5.9 quake struck during the early hours of Wednesday near the city of Khost by the Pakistan border. At least 1,500 people have been reported injured – but officials warn the toll is likely to rise as many families were sleeping in flimsy housing structures when the quake hit.

Children near their destroyed home in the Spera district of Afghanistan's Khost province on June 22.

Many homes in the area are made of mud, wood and other materials vulnerable to weather damage – and the quake coincided with heavy monsoon rains, adding to the danger of collapse.

Photos from nearby Paktika province, a rural and mountainous region where most of the deaths have been reported, show houses reduced to rubble. About 2,000 homes are thought to have been destroyed, according to the United Nations. Some people spent the night sleeping in makeshift outdoor shelters, as rescuers scoured for survivors by flashlight.

Afghan villagers sit outside a tent after their house was damaged in an earthquake in Spera, Khost province, on June 22.

Medics and emergency staff from around the country are converging on the site, with assistance from some international agencies such as the World Health Organization.

However, help may be limited as many organizations pulled out of the aid-dependent country after the Taliban seized power last August.

The Taliban government has deployed emergency resources, including several helicopters and dozens of ambulances, and has offered compensation to victims’ families.

It has also called for foreign aid, pleading for “the generous support of all countries, international organizations, individuals and foundations” on Wednesday.

#NEWS MORE: Afghanistan quake kills at least 255 people - State-run news agency

A magnitude 5.9 earthquake that hit Afghanistan has killed at least 255 people and wounded more than 500 people, according to state-run news agency Bakhtar. 

Casualties were reported in Barmal, Zirok, Nika and Giyan districts of Paktika province, according to Bakhtar. 

CNN is unable to independently confirm Bakhtarís reporting.
Officials: Over 1,000 killed in Afghanistan earthquake
01:59 - Source: CNN

Limited international aid

The quake has compounded the problems already plaguing Afghanistan.

Though the economic crisis has loomed for years, the result of conflict and drought, it plunged to new depths after the Taliban takeover, which prompted the United States and its allies to freeze about $7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cut off international funding.

The move has crippled the Afghan economy and sent many of its 20 million people into a severe hunger crisis. Millions of Afghans are out of work, government employees haven’t been paid, and the price of food has soared, with reports of some families so desperate to eat they have resorted to selling their children.

Few aid agencies remain, and those that do are stretched thin. On Wednesday, the WHO said it had mobilized “all of the resources” from around the country, with teams on the ground providing medicine and emergency support. But, as one WHO official put it, “The resources are overstretched here, not just for this region.”