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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Massive earthquake hits Balochistan: death toll rises to 328

KHUZDAR: The death toll from a massive earthquake that jolted southwest Pakistan rose to 328 on Wednesday, with officials saying thousands have been left homeless in remote parts of Balochistan province.

The 7.7-magnitude quake struck Tuesday afternoon in the province, toppling thousands of mud-built homes as it spread havoc through Awaran and Kech districts and the southwestern parts of the country.

Jan Muhammad Buledi, a spokesman for the Balochistan provincial government, confirmed 328 people were killed and at least 440 injured.

“I fear further increase in the number of dead,” said Buledi. He said the rescue workers were yet to reach out to several survivors in Awaran since the earthquake had badly affected the communication system in the remote district.

Pakistan’s military on Wednesday rushed to reach the scene of the earthquake to launch a relief operation in the affected areas. 

“A total of six districts, Awaran, Kech, Gwadar, Panjgur, Chaghi and Khuzdar, and a population of over 300,000 have been affected by the earthquake,” Buledi earlier told a press conference. The provincial spokesman said aid workers were facing difficulties in reaching out to survivors since the communication system was severely affected by the earthquake. He said teams were working to recover bodies, but the priority was to move the injured to hospitals as soon as possible, a difficult task in a desolate area with minimal infrastructure.

“We are seriously lacking medical facilities and there is no space to treat injured people in the local hospitals,” he said. “We are trying to shift seriously injured people to Karachi through helicopters and others to the neighbouring districts.”

“There is nothing, patients are dying,” Rehmatullah Muhammad Hassani, an earthquake survivor told a local newspaper via phone from the District Headquarter Hospital in Awaran.

He said the patients were facing difficulties in getting basic first aid treatment in the hospital. “There are no doctors and paramedics,” Hassani said.

Hassani said that a large number of mud-walled houses had collapsed as result of the powerful earthquake tremors. “We fear there are people still trapped under the rubble,” he said. The Awaran resident added that authorities had yet to launch an effective rescue operation to retrieve the people stuck from under the rubble.
Nazar Muhammad, a paramedic, said 70 injured had been brought to district hospital Awaran for medical treatment. He said: “We have no surgery equipment and we are only providing basic first aid to the survivors.”

The army has sent 100 personnel as medical staff and 1,000 troops to the area to help with rescue efforts and has established a medical centre in Tarteej, one of the worst-affected villages.

The scale of the affected territory is daunting. Awaran's population is scattered over an area of more than 21,000 square kilometres. More than 60,000 people live within 50 kilometres of the epicentre, according to the UN disaster agency, mostly in easily collapsible mud homes.

Television footage showed collapsed houses, caved-in roofs and people sitting in the open air outside their homes, the rubble of mud and bricks scattered around them.

Abdul Rasheed Baloch, a senior official in the district, said teams had worked through the night to try to retrieve bodies and survivors from the rubble. “Around 90 per cent of houses in the district have been destroyed. Almost all the mud houses have collapsed,” he said.

Some of the dead have already been laid to rest in their villages, he said.

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