The earthquake hit at 1.24 a.m. about 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, which lies close to the country’s border with Pakistan, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
The quake registered at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), according to USGS, which assigned the quake a yellow alert level — indicating a relatively localized impact.
Most of the deaths were in Paktika province, where 255 people were killed and 155 others were injured in the districts of Giyan, Nika, Barmal and Zirok, according to the State Ministry for Disaster Management.
In neighboring Khost province, 25 people were killed and several others were injured, and five people were killed in Nangarhar province, the disaster management authority said.
Photos from Paktika province, just south of Khost province, show destroyed houses with only a wall or two still standing amid the rubble, and broken roof beams.
Local officials and residents have warned that the death toll is likely to rise, according to state-run news agency Bakhtar.
A team of medics and seven helicopters have been sent to the area to transport injured people to nearby hospitals, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense said in a tweet on Wednesday.
Najibullah Sadid, an Afghan water resources management expert, said the earthquake had coincided with heavy monsoon rain in the region — making traditional houses, many made of mud and other natural materials, particularly vulnerable to damage.
“The timing of the earthquake (in the) dark of night … and the shallow depth of 10 kilometers of its epicenter led to higher casualties,” he added.
A Taliban deputy spokesperson, Bilal Karimi, said the earthquake had been “severe,” and asked aid agencies to “urgently send teams” to the area affected.
In a tweet on Wednesday, the World Health Organization said its teams were on the ground for emergency response, including providing medicine, trauma services and conducting needs assessments.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif extended his condolences and an offer of support in a tweet on Wednesday. “Deeply grieved to learn about the earthquake in Afghanistan, resulting in the loss of innocent lives,” he wrote. “People in Pakistan share the grief and sorrow of their Afghan brethren. Relevant authorities are working to support Afghanistan in this time of need.”
Pope Francis said he was praying “for those who have lost their lives and for their families,” during his weekly audience on Wednesday. “I hope aid can be sent there to help all the suffering of the dear people of Afghanistan.”
The earthquake comes as the country is in the throes of a hunger crisis. Almost half the population — 20 million people — are experiencing acute hunger, according to a United Nations-backed report in May. It is a situation compounded by the Taliban seizing power in August 2021, which led the United States and its allies freezing about $7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cutting off international funding.
The move crippled an economy already heavily dependent on aid.
CNN’s Hada Messia contributed to this report.