BREAKING: At least 300 people killed after strong earthquake hits Afghanistan

At least 300 people were killed after an earthquake struck eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, officials said.
“The situation is quite critical," Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told NBC News, adding that more than 300 people had died while “hundreds” of others were injured in the magnitude 6 earthquake.
“The situation is quite critical. Hundreds of houses are collapsed and we expect heavy human losses and serious damage to the infrastructure,” he said.
The earthquake hit the Paktika and Khost provinces, close to the country's border with Pakistan. NBC News has not independently verified the number of people killed.
Karimi said hundreds of people were still believed to be trapped under the rubble of buildings that collapsed in the earthquake. He said rescue efforts had been launched, but noted that some of the areas affected were in remote locations.
“In this critical situation, we appeal to the international community and philanthropist organizations to come forward and help the Afghan people,” he said.
His plea comes at a time when much of the international community has left Afghanistan following the Taliban's takeover last year, however, which is likely to complicate relief efforts.
Taliban fighters secure a government helicopter to evacuate injured people in Paktika province, Afghanistan on Wednesday.Bakhtar News Agency / via AP
United Nations coordinator in Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said in a tweet that U.N. officials were "assessing the needs and responding in the aftermath of the earthquake."
Offering condolences to the families of those killed, Alakbarov said "response is on its way."
Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said it had registered the earthquake at a magnitude of 6.1.
Salahuddin Ayubi, an official of Afghanistan’s interior ministry, said Paktika had "badly suffered" in the temblor, while in Khost at least 25 people had died, with around 90 injured.
He said the death toll could rise, with officials receiving reports of several mud houses collapsing in mountainous areas of the two provinces.
"There are many remote villages in Paktika and Khost and we are hearing that many people are still under the mud houses collapsed in the earthquake," Ayubi said.
He said rescue efforts were underway and the injured were being taken to hospitals.
Mountainous Afghanistan is known to be vulnerable to earthquakes and has suffered several major temblors in recent years.
In 2015, at least 385 people were killed after an earthquake struck the country's northeast and neighboring northern Pakistan.
A 6.1 magnitude earthquake in 2002 killed around 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan, while in 1998, a 6.1 magnitude temblor and subsequent tremors in northeast Afghanistan left at least 4,500 people dead, according to The Associated Press.