Over 300 feared dead in one of Pakistan’s worst earthquakes
Small 76-metre wide island emerges from the sea during powerful quake
An island that rose from the sea following an earthquake is pictured off Pakistan’s Gwadar coastline in the Arabian Sea . Photograph: Stringer /Reuters
The rubble of a house is seen after it collapsed following a quake in the town of Awaran, in Pakistan yesterday. Photograph: Reuters
Survivors remove the rubble of a mud house from a vehicle after it collapsed following an earthquake in the town of Awaran, southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchista. Photograph: Naseer Ahmed/Reuters
Survivors collect their belongings near the rubble of a mud house after it collapsed following an earthquake in the town of Awaran, southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Photograph: Naseer Ahmed /Reuters
Survivors of an earthquake collect their belongings near the rubble of a mud house after it collapsed following the quake in the town of Awaran. Photograph: Naseer Ahmed /Reuters
More than 300 people are feared to have been killed in one of the worst earthquakes to hit Pakistan in years, and with the death toll steadily rising emergency relief efforts have been hampered by the vast distances involved, security threats from separatist rebels and minimal infrastructure in one the country’s most remote regions.
Twenty-four hours after a quake with a magnitude of 7.7 wrought destruction in Pakistan’s impoverished Baluchistan province yesterday, a leading aid organisation said it could not be sure whether all the affected areas had been reached.
“This is a huge, sparsely populated province so it’s clear that there are distant villages that no one has yet reached,” said Ateeb Siddiqui, the head of operations for the Pakistan Red Crescent.
The death toll jumped dramatically overnight and continued to rise during the day today as rescue workers reached new areas.
Fifteen children were killed in one madrasa alone when the religious school collapsed on top of them.
Jan Muhammad Buledi, a spokesman from the Baluchistan provincial government, said more than 300,000 people had been affected in what is now believed to be the worst earthquake to hit Pakistan since 2005, when about 75,000 people were killed in the country’s north. “We are finding it very difficult to reach the affected remote areas,” he said.
Many people broke bones or even lost limbs entirely during the collapse of mud buildings which were unable to survive the powerful quake. The tremor was felt as far away as New Delhi and triggered a “mud volcano” off the coast of Baluchistan.
Red Crescent workers from the major regional cities of Karachi and Quetta have had to travel hundreds of miles just to reach the worst affected areas in the district of Awaran, where an estimated 90 per cent of houses have been destroyed. “Even getting from district offices takes time because once you are off the highways the roads are really not that good,” said Mr Buledi.
In addition to medical help the Red Crescent and other organisations are delivering tents, blankets, food and stoves to people who have lost their homes. An army spokesman in the provincial capital of Quetta said members of the Frontier Corp helping with relief work had come under attack in an area called Mashkel. No injuries were reported and he described the attack as a “minor incident”.
Baluchistan is home to an entrenched insurgency by separatist rebels who say the Pakistani state exploits the region for its natural mineral wealth but does nothing for the people of the province.
A spate of bombings targeting a Shia ethnic group in the restive regional capital Quetta in January killed almost 100, injured many more and led to the sacking of the provincial government.
The tension between Islamabad and the region’s militant groups remains unresolved. In August, tens were killed and more than 20 kidnapped in an attack by militants dressed in security forces uniforms.
Today, the Pakistani army said 1,000 troops and 200 doctors had gone to the area and “more are being sent all the time”. A convoy of 60 army trucks left Karachi early today, carrying supplies for those affected by the quake.
The force of the quake also released jets of methane from the seabed near the port town of Gwadar, pushing up massive amounts of mud, sand and rock, forming a new island. Experts said the exceedingly rare phenomenon had happened in the area in the past and the island would erode away over time.
According to the Pakistani Navy geologist Mohammed Danish, who was interviewed on national television, the island is 18 metres high, 30 metres long and 76 metres wide. “There are stones and mud,” he said, warning residents not to try to visit the island. “Gasses are still emitting.”
But dozens of people had already visited the island, said the deputy commissioner of Gwadar district, Tufail Baloch, who travelled there by boat himself on Wednesday morning. Water bubbled along the edges of the island, in what appeared to be gas discharging from under the surface, Mr Baloch said. He said the area smelled of gas that caught fire when people lit cigarettes. Dead fish floated on the water’s surface while local residents were visiting the island and taking stones as souvenirs, he added.
Guardian News & Media