A strong earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale jolted parts of the Balochistan province in Pakistan on Wednesday morning, leaving about 170 people dead in its wake, officials said.
“There is great destruction,” said Ziarat mayor Dilawar Kakar. “Not a single house is intact.”
In the village of Sohi, a reporter saw the bodies of 17 people killed in one collapsed house and 12 from another. Distraught residents were digging a mass grave in which to bury them.
“We can't dig separate graves for each of them, as the number of deaths is high and still people are searching in the rubble of many other homes,” said Shamsullah Khan, a village elder.
Other survivors sat stunned in the open, with little more than the clothes in which they had been sleeping.
Hospitals in the nearby town of Kawas and the provincial capital Quetta, 50 miles (80 kilometers) away, were flooded with the dead and injured. One patient, Raz Mohammed, said he was awoken by the sound of his children crying before he felt a jolt.
“I rushed toward them but the roof of my own room collapsed and the main iron support hit me,” he told an AP reporter in Quetta Civil Hospital. “That thing broke my back and I am in severe pain but thank God my children and relatives are safe.”
The earthquake struck at around 4 am after which people rushed out of their houses. Within hours, aftershock tremors were felt by residents.
The intensity of the aftershocks increased on Wednesday evening with government officials warning residents of the area not to sleep indoors despite the severe cold in the area. Ziarat is a hill station of Balochistan province and the area is known for its juniper forests.
With some roads blocked by landslides, officials said the military was ferrying hundreds of troops and medical teams on six helicopters to villagers in the quake zone.
However, the Pakistan government announced that it would not be asking for international assistance to help the victims as it has both the resources and expertise to deal with the problem.
“We are not asking for international help at this stage,” General Farooq Ahmad, the chief of the National Disaster Management Authority, told newsmen in Islamabad on Wednesday evening.
Ahmad said that eight villages have been severely affected in the quake. These villages are located in the Ziarat district of Balochistan province. He, however, clarified that those who wanted to help “would be welcomed.”
Government officials said that the forests were also affected by the quake.
Two tented villages have been set up by the government to house over 2,500 affectees of the earthquake.
The military's C-130 transport aircraft airlifted supplies and medicines from Karachi and Rawalpindi to Balochistan.
Army helicopters were pressed into service to ferry the injured to Quetta. Teams of the Army Medical Corps and Engineering Corps also joined the relief operations.
The tremors of the earthquake were felt as far as the provincial capital, Quetta. The rescue operations, which are led by the Pakistan Army, have so far reached the major areas affected by the earthquake. It is believed that people may be trapped in landslides. A number of affected areas border Iran and Afghanistan.
General Ahmad told newsmen that it was difficult to reach some of the remote areas. Landslides and dust storms were also reported from areas situated next to sand mountains. It is believed that people may be trapped in landslides. A number of affected areas border Iran and Afghanistan.
(With inputs from agencies)