A magnitude 5.9 earthquake that struck eastern Afghanistan before dawn on Wednesday claimed more than 920 lives and wounded 1,500 more, said the authorities.

The earthquake hit the Paktika and Khost provinces at 1.24 am (local time), about 46 km (28.5 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, which lies near the border with Pakistan.

Rescuers scrambled for survivors in the deadliest earthquake in decades to have devastated the war-ravaged nation, which is in the throes of back-breaking poverty and food crises.

It is the biggest disaster in Afghanistan since the Islamist Taliban militia returned to power in August of last year.