HARNAI, LAHORE: At least 24 people were killed and more than 100 injured on Thursday when a 5.9 magnitude quake jolted six cities and towns in Balochistan, causing roofs and walls of mud brick homes to collapse on families as they slept.
According to the seismological centre, the epicentre was located near Harnai at a depth of 15 kilometres. The death toll is feared to rise. According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), most of the deceased were women and children.
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 24 people have been killed due to the earthquake," said home ministerMir Ziaullah Langau, adding that 100 people were injured, reports AFP. "It is safe to say that hundreds of mud houses were damaged" 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.
A medical emergency has been declared at the Civil Hospital Quetta where doctors and other paramedical staff have been recalled on emergency basis. Images published by the Balochistan Levies law enforcement agency showed men clearing fallen rocks from a blocked road, with only the headlights of cars parked nearby to cut through the darkness.
"It was a strong earthquake. The jolt was very powerful," Zaman Shah told AFP in Harnai. "As we ran to save our lives, some people fell," he said. "Our homes have suffered damage, and lives were also lost."
Provincial officials said dozens if not hundreds of people were injured, while hundreds of mud brick houses were damaged. As day broke, Harnai residents were sifting through the yellow-brown rubble that once constituted their homes. Some desperately pulled away bricks and rocks with their bare hands, while one man struggled to lift a door flattened on top of the debris.
Children with smudged faces and bandaged heads sat in stunned silence on stretchers, as ambulances wailed by and army helicopters roared overhead. They were evacuating those worst injured from remote areas to Quetta, the nearest major city. When the shallow quake shook the ground in Gharibabad village in Harnai district, "everybody rushed to save their lives," 27-year-old villager Rahamatullah told AFP.
"Women and children were screaming for help." He said no one from his family was injured, but that they had been terrified to see big cracks in the walls. When a second jolt rocked the area around two hours after the first quake, "nobody dared to go inside his home," he says.
"People stayed out of their house for the rest of the night." 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. "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," 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. The earthquake was felt in towns throughout Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, including provincial capital Quetta, around 170 kilometers (105 miles) west of Harnai, Harnai, Pishin, Qilla Saifullah, Chaman, Ziarat, Sibi and Zhob.
The US Geological Survey initially said the shallow quake measured 5.7, before revising it up to a magnitude of 5.9. President Dr Arif Alvi expressed grief and sorrow over the loss of lives. In a tweet, he condoled with the bereaved families and prayed for the departed souls. He prayed for early recovery of those injured. President Arif Alvi was confident that the national and provincial disaster management authorities will provide quick relief to the affected people.
Our correspondent from Islamabad adds: Prime Minister Imran Khan Thursday said he had ordered immediate assistance on emergency basis for the quake victims and immediate assessment of the damage for timely relief and compensation.
In a tweet, he said, “I have ordered immediate assistance on an emergency basis for the Harnai, Balochistan, earthquake victims & for an immediate assessment of the damage for timely relief & compensation. My condolences & prayers go to the families who lost their loved ones.”
Separately, he said doctors were a valuable asset to our country and the whole world appreciated their abilities. He said this during a meeting with Dr. Mudir Khan, President of Insaf Doctors Forum, who called on Prime Minister Imran Khan here. Special Assistant to National Health Services Dr. Faisal Sultan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Minister for Health and Finance Timur Saleem Jhagra also attended the meeting.
The prime minister was briefed in detail on the progress made in the health sector reforms. Dr. Mudir apprised the prime minister of his concerns about the Doctors’ Entrance Test Exam (MDCAT) and the National Licensing Exam (NLE).
The prime minister directed Dr. Faisal Sultan to take steps to address these concerns on priority basis. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership Thursday expressed deep sorrow over the loss of precious lives and property.
PMLN President and Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif said he was deeply saddened over the loss of precious human lives. He offered his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and demanded the federal government to immediately announce a state of emergency to carry out full relief operations in Balochistan.
He emanded that the critically injured should be airlifted to other hospitals in the country to save their lives. He said the federal government should play a leading role in the relief operations and be fully mobilized.
PML-N Central Vice President Maryam Nawaz Sharif also expressed deep sorrow and grief over the loss of human lives and expressed sympathy for the affected families. In her statement on Twitter, Maryam Nawaz said every heart was saddened for the families who lost their loved ones.
PMLN Central Vice President and Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz Sharif said the damage caused by the earthquake in different parts of Balochistan was devastating.
He said he was with the people of Balochistan and the victims in this hour of need. Meanwhile, on the direction of the central leadership of PML-N, special prayers were offered for the victims of earthquake as well as for the legendary actor Omar Sharif.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its deep pain and sorrow for the quake victims. “The ministry expresses its stand and solidarity with our brothers in Pakistan in this great loss, and offers sincere condolences and sympathy to the families of the deceased, and to the leadership, government and people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, with wishes for a speedy recovery for the injured,” said a statement.