20 killed as quake rattles southern Pakistan

AFP , Thursday 7 Oct 2021

At least 20 people were killed and more than 100 injured on Thursday when an earthquake struck southwestern Pakistan, causing roofs and walls of mud brick homes to collapse on families as they slept.

Pakistani Eathquake
A local resident looks his damaged house following a severe earthquake hit the area, in Harnai, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Quetta, Pakistan, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. A powerful earthquake collapsed at least one coal mine and dozens of mud houses in southwest Pakistan early Thursday. AP

A one-year-old boy was among the victims, killed when a beam crashed on top of him in the darkness, as the 5.9 magnitude quake jolted at least six cities and towns in Balochistan province.

The worst-affected area was the remote mountainous district of Harnai, where landslides blocked some roads, hampering rescue efforts.

Authorities are also contending with phone and electricity outages after pylons were damaged.

"We are receiving information that 20 people have been killed due to the earthquake," said Balochistan's home minister Mir Zia ullah Langau, adding that 100 people were injured.

"It is safe to say that hundreds of mud houses were damaged."

A woman and six children were among 20 dead, Suhail Anwar Hashmi, the top government official in Harnai district, told AFP, putting the number of injured at around 200.

"The roof of my house collapsed, when I regained consciousness, I pulled out two of my sons, but the youngest one... had already died," Rafiullah, a farmer from a village in Harnai district, told AFP.

Army helicopters were helping to evacuate the injured from remote areas to Quetta, the nearest major city.

Naseer Nasar, the head of Balochistan's Provincial Disaster Management Authority, warned the death toll could rise.

A second jolt rocked the area around two hours after the first quake.

- Hospital works by torchlight -
"Our rescue teams have cleared 50 percent of the roads leading to Harnai while remaining roads will be cleared in the next two to three hours," Balochistan's home minister Langau added, highlighting the strain rescue teams were under.

The quake caused electricity to fail in the area, with health staff working until dawn without lights in the district's poorly equipped government hospital.

Before daybreak, "we were operating without electricity with the help of torches and mobile flashlights," Zahoor Tarin, a senior official at Harnai hospital, told AFP.

"Most of the injured came with fractured limbs. Dozens of people were sent back after first aid," he said.

The most serious cases were being sent by ambulance to Quetta.

Hashmi, the top government official in Harnai district, said a rescue team had been dispatched to investigate reports that 15 coal miners were trapped in a mine on the outskirts of the town.

It is common in Pakistan for miners to work at night when temperatures are cooler.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said he had ordered "immediate assistance on an emergency basis" to the affected region.

The earthquake was felt in towns throughout Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, including provincial capital Quetta, around 170 kilometres (105 miles) west of Harnai.

The US Geological Survey initially said the shallow quake measured 5.7, before revising it up to a magnitude of 5.9.

Pakistan straddles the boundary where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, making the country susceptible to earthquakes.

In 2015, a 7.5-magnitude quake in Pakistan and Afghanistan killed almost 400 people across rugged terrain that impeded relief efforts.

The country was also hit by a 7.6-magnitude quake in 2005 that killed more than 73,000 people and left about 3.5 million homeless, mainly in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

A 7.6-magnitude quake in 1935 killed around 30,000 people in Quetta, which at the time was part of British-ruled India.

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