by Kathy Gannon and Abdul Sattar | The Associated Press
Quetta, Pakistan – At least one coal mine and dozens of mud houses collapsed in southwest Pakistan early on Thursday in a powerful earthquake, killing at least 23 people as the death toll continued to rise. At least 200 others were injured, an official said.
Local Deputy Commissioner Suhail Anwar Shaheen said the death toll was expected to rise further as the crew carried out searches in the remote mountainous area.
Referring to coal mines in the area, Shaheen said that at least four people died when the coal mine they were working in collapsed. More than 100 houses also collapsed, burying the sleeping residents inside.
A relative, Wali Muhammad, said that in one case, a mother along with her two younger sons died when their house collapsed. Nearby the body of an 8-year-old girl was found under the rubble of her house.
According to the US Geological Survey, the epicenter of the 5.9-magnitude quake was about nine miles northeast of Harnai in Balochistan province. The initial measurement of the magnitude of the earthquake was 5.7. It dropped about 5.5 miles below Earth’s surface; Shallow earthquakes cause more damage.
The area, some 60 miles from the province’s capital Quetta, is full of coal mines, causing Shaheen to worry that the death toll could rise. He said it happened early in the morning, when several miners were already at work.
The Pakistan Army was deployed to the earthquake zone to airlift dozens of injured from the mountain peaks. Nine seriously injured people were taken to the provincial hospital in Quetta. An army statement said search and rescue teams had reached the mountains.
Concerns have risen about the many coal miners being trapped. There are heaps of mud and straw in the houses. Residents of small hill villages were stunned among the rubble. “Women, children, everyone, were running here and there,” said resident Ghulam Khan. “We were scared and didn’t know what to do.”
An ambulance arrived soon after to take the injured to Harnai Hospital.
Doctors treated patients outside the hospital as tremors of magnitude 4.6 continued into the morning hours. Blood-soaked children were on stretchers outside the hospital as ambulances brought more injured.
“So far we have treated over 200 people,” said Manzoor Ahmed, medical superintendent of Harnai district hospital. He said that small rural facility has been taxed to the extent. 15 bodies were brought there.
As of Thursday afternoon, the last rites were being performed in small villages on the side of the mountain.
Most of the population of the region lives in sun-covered mud houses, many of which have collapsed. Rescue efforts were on, but Shaheen said it would take hours to reach the most affected areas.
Witnesses from the area said residents were wrapped in blankets against the cold, sitting on the side of the road waiting for the tremors to subside and help to arrive.
The region is remote and already autumn night temperatures are chilly.
According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, Pakistan’s south-west Balochistan is located in a seismically active region. A severe earthquake in 1935 devastated the provincial capital Balochistan and killed more than 35,000 people. Since then, there have been several earthquakes in Pakistan’s least populous province, with only 12 million people.
Pakistan is a country of 220 million people, 60 percent of whom live in the East Punjab province of the country.
Gannon reported from Islamabad