Thousands of people are homeless and desperate for aid in southwestern Pakistan following a deadly earthquake centered in neighboring Iran that toppled scores of mud brick homes and killed at least 36 people, officials said Wednesday.
The Pakistani army has deployed several hundred soldiers to help the relief effort in Mashkel, the area of Baluchistan province hit hardest by Tuesday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake. But many residents in Mashkel, where nearly all the homes were destroyed, said they were unhappy with the government's response.
"I appeal to the government. I appeal to the international community to help us with food, medicine, tents and blankets," Syed Mureed Shah, one of the top officials in surrounding Washak district, told The Associated Press by telephone. "Come and see with your own eyes the damage caused by the earthquake."
At least 35 people were killed and 150 injured in Pakistan, according to Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority. Iran's main state TV channel said Wednesday that only one person was killed in Iran — a woman who was struck by falling rocks while she was collecting herbs — and that 12 people were injured.
Iran's state-run Press TV initially reported a much higher death toll in Iran, saying 40 people had been killed, but later backed away from that figure. The discrepancies and apparent backtracking in the reports could not be immediately reconciled because the affected areas are remote and difficult to reach.
An estimated 700 houses were reported damaged in Mashkel in Pakistan, and more remote areas were being assessed, the disaster management agency said.
But Shah, the Washuk district official, said the damage was more widespread. He said more than 3,000 homes were destroyed in the district, leaving about 19,000 people without shelter. He complained that he has only received about 60 tents from the provincial government.
People in Mashkel sat under makeshift shelters or sought shade under palm trees amid the rubble of their mud brick houses Wednesday. A dead horse lay amid the debris of one house. An air conditioning unit stuck out of rubble from another. Several children lying on beds in a makeshift clinic received medicine or fluids intravenously.
More than 300 Pakistani soldiers, including doctors and engineers, were helping with the relief effort by distributing food, medicine and blankets, the army said. They also set up a field hospital to provide medical aid. Five army helicopters were participating in the operation, the army said.
The helicopters flew 15 critically injured people to Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, for treatment, the disaster management agency said. Five more critically injured people are awaiting evacuation from Mashkel and are expected to be evacuated Wednesday, the agency said.
The provision of additional supplies was hampered Wednesday by a sand storm that prevented helicopters from landing in Mashkel, the agency said. The Baluchistan government also dispatched 20 trucks carrying tents, lamps, food and water that are expected to reach Mashkel by Thursday morning at the latest.
Iranian state TV showed brief images of a village house toppled in the earthquake zone, but scenes from bigger towns showed little damage. It gave no details on rescue work or plans to open the area to international media.
Residents in Mashkel said most people were able to remove their belongings — pots, pans, carpets, blankets and pillows — from their homes before they collapsed into piles of rubble. They said they don't know of anyone still buried under debris in the area.
The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of the earthquake at 7.8 and said it occurred at a depth of 82 kilometers (51 miles). Press TV said the quake was centered near Saravan, about 50 kilometers (26 miles) from the Pakistani border. The website of Tehran Geophysics Center said the quake lasted 40 seconds and called it the strongest in more than 50 years in one of the world's most seismically active areas.
The quake was so strong that it was felt over a vast area from New Delhi — about 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) from the epicenter — to Gulf cities that have some of the world's tallest skyscrapers, including the record 828-meter (2,717 -foot) Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Officials ordered temporary evacuations from the Burj Khalifa and some other high-rises as a precaution. Pakistani news channels showed buildings shaking in the southern city of Karachi, where people in panic came out from offices and homes.
It forced Iranian officials — for the second time in less than a week — to issue assurances that its main nuclear reactor wasn't damaged. Iran was struck by a magnitude 6.1 earthquake near the country's Persian Gulf coast last Tuesday that killed at least 37 people.
In 2003, some 26,000 people were killed by a magnitude 6.6 quake that flattened the historic southeastern Iranian city of Bam. Two years later, a magnitude 7.6 earthquake killed about 80,000 people in northwestern Pakistan and Kashmir and left more than 3 million homeless.