KABUL, Afghanistan (NBC News) — A rush-hour suicide bomb attack in the center of Afghanistan's capital killed least 80 people and wounded more than 300 others early Wednesday, officials said.

The powerful explosion occurred at a time when Kabul's roads were packed with commuters.

A huge plume of smoke rose over the city. Windows were shattered in shops, restaurants and other buildings up to a half-mile from the blast site.

"It felt like an earthquake," Mohammad Hassan, 21, told Reuters. His head wound had been bandaged but blood still soaked his white dress shirt.

The Health Ministry confirmed the death toll. Authorities said most of the casualties were civilians and that many of those killed were women and children.

In the immediate aftermath of the blast, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish told NBC News it occurred close to a gate to the presidential palace. However, the site of the bombing is much nearer to the German Embassy.

Germany Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel confirmed that some employees based at its diplomatic outpost had been injured. 

Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for Kabul police, told Reuters that it was "hard to say what the exact target is."

The neighborhood is considered Kabul's safest area, with foreign embassies protected by dozens of 10-foot-high blast walls and government offices, guarded by police and national security forces.

Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry, the British, Canadian, Chinese, Turkish and Iranian embassies are also located in the area.

France's European affairs minister told Europe 1 radio that the country's embassy had suffered "some material damage."

Waheed Majroh, a spokesman for the Afghan health ministry, told NBC News that the injured included some foreign nationals working for a telecommunications firm.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast but both the Taliban and ISIS have staged large-scale attacks in the Afghan capital in the past.

The Taliban later said it had "nothing to do" with the explosion.

"We will continue our attacks even in the month of Ramadan against the US-led foreign forces and their puppet Afghan government but that doesn't mean we will carry out attacks in places where civilians are targeted," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid added.

Last month, the group announced the beginning of their spring offensive, promising to build their political base in the country while focusing military assaults on the international coalition and Afghan security forces.

U.S. and Afghan forces have been battling the Taliban insurgency for more than 15 years. The U.S. now has more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

In the past year, the Taliban have captured key districts, such as Helmand province, which U.S. and British troops had fought bitterly to return to the government.

Since most international troops withdrew at the end of 2014, the Taliban have gained ground and now control or contest about 40 percent of the country, according to U.S. estimates.