Over 130 dead in Pakistan quake, army in rescue mode

Islamabad, Oct 26 (IANS) The strongest earthquake in 10 years rocked Pakistan on Monday leaving at least 200 people dead and over a thousand injured and causing widespread damage, stretching from the areas near Afghanistan to Kashmir and Punjab regions bordering India.

The 7.5 intensity quake with its epicentre in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains at 2.09 p.m. jolted most northern parts of Pakistan including major cities like Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi in the region while tremors were felt as far south as Quetta and Multan, officials said.

Monday’s was the most serious quake since the October 8, 2005 temblor measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale devastated Kashmir and Northern Areas, leaving more than 80,000 dead.

The Pakistan Army began rescue operations within hours.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan bore the brunt, accounting for nearly 170 fatalities, Pakistani officials and media said. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa officials put the death toll at above 190, while Commissioner Malakand Division Usman said 137 people were killed in Malakand which comprises Swat, Upper and Lower Dir, Chitral, Shangla and Buner areas, reported Dawn.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani said the death toll in Peshawar was 18 but PDMA officials later put it at six. Over a 100 injured were warded in the Lady Reading Hospital.

Elsewhere in Khyber-Pakhtunkwa, seven people were killed in Mansehra, three in Charsadda, 18 in Shangla and 20 in Chitral, which fell closest to the quake’s epicentre. Fourteen people, including four children, were killed in the Bajaur tribal region near the Afghanistan border after buildings collapsed. Two deaths took place in the Khyber and Mohmand agencies each.

As many as 16 people were killed in Swat Valley, while nearly 200 injured were brought to Swat’s Saidu Sharif Teaching Hospital.

Deaths were also reported in Upper and Lower Dir (12 and 17 respectively), Buner (7) and Mardan (2), Kohistan (3) and Swabi (2). Details of the other deaths were not clear.

Five deaths were reported from Punjab including a child was killed in Kallar Kahar area of Chakwal district, one woman was killed and 10 others injured in a wall collapse in Sargodha and one in Kasur district when a house roof came crashing down.

One death was reported from Mirpur in Pakistani Kashmir and three in Gilgit-Baltistan, where the tremors also caused a massive landslide.

Officials said the toll was feared to rise further as communication was cut off with several remote and mountainous areas.

Communications services were also disrupted in Islamabad and Peshawar where frightened people rushed out of their houses and offices. According to officials, many buildings, roads and other structures were damaged.

Dunya News TV reported that a part of the historic Bala Hissar fort in Peshawar was damaged. A minaret of the 17th-century Mahabat Khan Mosque in the city also collapsed.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa said troops had been directed “to carry out immediate rescue work in affected areas without waiting for formal orders”. Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif was in Peshawar to oversee rescue operations in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Army teams fanned out for a quick assessment of earthquake damages across the country, Gen. Bajwa said.

All command military hospitals were on high alert. Helicopters were on standby.

“QRFs have spread out in respective areas, busy in rescue work mainly in Malakand, Dir, Chitral, Bajaur. Continuous Damage assessment under way,” Maj.Gen. Bajwa said in a tweet.

He said medical teams had reached the sites for relief and Gen. Sharif had ordered ration provision, and tents be distributed.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed all federal, civil, military and provincial agencies to declare an immediate alert and mobilise all resources to help the quake victims.

President Mamnoon Hussain expressed grief over the loss of lives. So did celebrities who took to social media to express their anguish.

Singer Ali Zafar was overcome by its intensity. “That’s the most … I’ve ever felt an earthquake,” he tweeted. Meesha Shafi posted: “WOAH! HUGE earthquake! #Lahore.”

Singer and activist Hadiqa Kiyani posted on Instagram: “Praying for everyone’s safety.”