Pakistan Quake: 291 Deaths Confirmed, 1800 Injured, Remote Areas Still Unreachable
KABUL/ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR: Pakistan and Afghanistan on Monday were struck with a powerful earthquake of magnitude 7.5 on the richter scale, killing at least 291 people, officials confirm.
Thousands of houses were damaged across the country with infrastructure destroyed as a result of the quake. Tremors were felt across in India, the Middle East, the Central Asian States and the entire region.
Rescuers on Tuesday rushed to deliver relief aid to victims of the quake, which killed at least 291 people in the Pak-Afghan region over a wide swathe of mountainous terrain.
Disaster management authorities have confirmed bulk of the casualties have been reported from Pakistan, where more than 1,800 people injured.
The quake struck the region at 2:09pm Monday followed by seven aftershocks, measuring as high as magnitude 4.8, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The latest aftershock came just before dawn on Tuesday.
Contradicting reports came in regarding the intensity of the earthquake. The local Meteorological Centre said it measured 8.1 on the open-ended Richter scale, making it the most powerful earthquake in Pakistan’s history. However, the Seismological Centre in the US calculated that the earthquake measured 7.7 on the Richter scale.
“The building was swinging like a pendulum, it felt as if the heavens would fall,” Peshawar shop owner Tufail Ahmed told AFP.
Recent change in weathers added to the calamity as thousands spent the night near-freezing outdoors reluctant to go back inside for fear of aftershocks, Pakistani media reported.
"Rescue work is ongoing, and tents, blankets and sleeping mats are being provided," Latifur Rehman, a Pakistani disaster management official, told Reuters from Peshawar.
Pakistan's military and civilian authorities dispatched several helicopters to affected areas to assess damage and run rescue operations, the National Disaster Management Authority said.
The toll was expected to rise as search teams reach remote areas that were cut off by the powerful 7.5 magnitude quake, which triggered landslides and stampedes as it toppled buildings and severed communication lines.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in London en route from an official visit to the US, said he would personally oversee the rescue efforts.
"We will try our best to deal with this disaster using our own resources," he said.
Landslides in Pakistan's northern areas over the weekend caused by heavy rain and snow had already left thousands of tourists stranded.
The US and Iran were among countries that offered to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, which already depends heavily on foreign aid after decades of war that have wrecked its economy and infrastructure.
Map showing the epicentre of the quake. ─AFP
Dr. John Ebel, chairman of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Boston College in the US, said the depth of the earthquake had limited its severity and meant damage was likely to be spread broadly rather than focused in one disaster zone.
But he said landslides on the unstable slopes of the mountainous region could pose a major problem.
"Obviously if a landslide comes into a village, it will take out buildings, but landslides can also take out roads and communications and power systems, so you lose the ability to access remote areas," he said.
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US Agency for International Development was ready to provide emergency shelter and relief supply kits.
Previously, Pakistan was struck with a devastating earthquake on October 8, 2005 leaving a trail of death and destruction, primarily in Azad Kashmir and Hazara division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The 7.6 quake had killed more than 73,000 people and dislocated over 3.5 million.
It has been ten years now, the 8.1 earthquake that struck Pakistan on Monday afternoon at 2:09 pm caused much less human loss even though its magnitude was greater.
Devastation in Afghanistan
Afghan officials said at least 63 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more injured, with casualties reported from around half a dozen of the country's 34 provinces.
The government has implored aid agencies for assistance.
But large swathes of Badakhshan, the remote province where the epicentre is located, and other areas are effectively controlled by the Taliban, posing a huge challenge to any official aid efforts.
“Today's earthquake was the strongest one felt in the recent decades,” said Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.
“Initial reports show a big loss of life and huge financial losses in Badakhshan, Takhar, Nangarhar, Kunar and other regions. Exact numbers are not known because phone lines are down and communication has been cut off in many areas."
'They could not even talk'
In the most horrifying episode to emerge so far from the quake, 12 young Afghan girls were crushed to death in a stampede as they tried to flee their shaking school building.
In remote northern Takhar, bystanders rushed the dazed and terrified survivors to hospital, many lying limp in the arms of their rescuers, as doctors tried reviving some of them by pumping their chests.
“When the relatives of the dead students came to collect their bodies, they were so distressed that they could not even talk to authorities to record their names,” said Hafizullah Safai, head of the Takhar health department.
The quake was centred near Jurm in northeast Afghanistan, 250 km from the capital Kabul and at a depth of 213.5 km, the US Geological Survey said.
The quake, which lasted at least one minute, shook buildings in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, sending thousands of frightened people rushing into the streets.
It was also felt in Tajikstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Live footage from an Afghan news broadcast filmed in Kabul showed the anchor abandoning his desk as the quake shook the cameras.
Restaurants and office buildings emptied in Islamabad, with cracks appearing in some buildings but no major damage reported.
Hundreds of people in northern India poured onto the streets from office blocks, hospitals and homes. In Delhi — more than 1,000 km from the epicentre — the metro ground to a halt during the tremor.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter immediately after the quake, saying that India stood ready to assist, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan if required.
Pakistan mobilised troops and all military hospitals were put on high alert, army spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa said, with the air force also offering support.
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
In Nepal twin quakes in May killed more than 8,900 people, triggered landslides and destroyed half a million homes.
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