Pakistan’s army leads rescue as earthquake death toll rises

Number of fatalities near 400 as road-clearing teams and rescuers target isolated areas

Pakistan has dispatched aircraft, road-clearing teams and rescuers to some of the country's most isolated valleys in the aftermath of a powerful earthquake that officials said had killed 376 people.

A surveillance flight was sent to assess damage caused by the magnitude 7.5 quake in neighbouring Afghanistan, while a transport aircraft loaded with rations, ready meals, tents and blankets was dispatched to Chitral, a far-flung former princely state that was especially badly hit.

Afghan officials said at least 115 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more injured, with casualties reported from about half a dozen of the country’s 34 provinces. The Kabul government has called for international aid agencies to send help.

The prolonged tremors were some of the worst the region has experienced in recent years and were felt hundreds of miles from the epicentre in Jurm, northeast Afghanistan.



By mid-morning on Tuesday the army said its Frontier Works Organisation had cleared 27 of 45 landslides that had blocked the Karakoram highway, the strategically valued road link to


that winds through some of the world’s most forbidding mountain terrain.

Small aftershocks that continued to shake the region have not done further damage, but schools in the city of Rawalpindi were kept shut as a precautionary measure.

Pakistan’s powerful army has taken a lead role in responding to the crisis, with extra resources pushed out to hospitals in the affected region. Pakistan has insisted that it does not require international assistance to cope with a disaster that caused a fraction of the damage of the devastating 2005 earthquake that killed nearly 80,000 Pakistanis and displaced millions more.

Seismologists say catastrophe was averted this time because the quake struck deep underground.

Isolated areas

Rescue work will nonetheless be a challenge, with civilian officials warning the death toll is likely to rise rapidly as teams reach isolated areas, many of which were cut off by landslides and the failure of mobile phone networks.

Inayatullah Khnan, the minister for local government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the worst-affected of Pakistan’s provinces, said he was receiving “bad news” from Upper Chitral, Dir and Shangla.

“The district officers in those areas have informed me there were many villages and buildings that got totally destroyed,” he said.

The army said it had sent trucks carrying rations, tents and blankets to Dir.

Many areas had already been deluged by two days of unseasonably heavy rain and snowfall, helping to loosen the ground and trap tourists who had been visiting the beauty spots of the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan.

For Afghanistan, the challenge of mounting rescue operations will be made harder given the country’s relative lack of resources, difficult terrain and the presence of anti-government Taliban insurgents in some of the areas affected.

The Taliban on Tuesday promised to pave access for aid organisations.

– (Guardian service)