At least 23 people were killed and more than 300 injured after a powerful earthquake of 5.9 magnitude hit Pakistan’s southwestern region in the early hours of Thursday.
Officials fear the death toll could rise as the quake left a trail of destruction in a region filled with mud houses and coal mines, with social media posts from cities including Quetta showing alarmed residents gathering outside homes.
At least 100 mud houses collapsed during the earthquake, according to local reports.
The centre of the quake was located beneath the town of Harnai in Balochistan province at a depth of about 20km, US Geological Survey data showed.
Sohail Anwar, joint commissioner of Harnai, told Spanish news agency EFE: “In total 23 people were killed and more than 300 were injured.
“Mostly children died because adults rushed outside but children could not.
“It’s a mountainous area and has coal mines but the mines remained safe.”
While Harnai appears to be the worst-affected town in terms of damage, surrounding areas like Quetta, Sibbi, Pishin, Muslim Bagh, Ziarat, Qila Abdullah, Sanjavi, Zhob and Chaman also felt the tremors, said the regional Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA).
The quake has brought down houses within 15km (3.1 miles) of Harnai and impacted government buildings as well, PDMA chief General Naseer Ahmed Nasir told Geo News.
Mountainous areas in the region have also seen landslides, Gen Nasir said.
At least four of those killed in the quake died after a coal mine collapsed, said Suhail Anwar Shaheen, deputy commissioner of the area. Rescue operations could take time to reach everyone as the hardest-hit areas remain hours away, Mr Shaheen said.
Officials have dispatched emergency assistance to those affected in the area, state head of Balochistan Jam Kamal Khan Alyani said on Twitter.
— Jam Kamal Khan (@jam_kamal) October 7, 2021
“All assistance and evacuations are underway for the #harnaiearthquake. Medical, local administration and disaster management teams are on high alert and mobilised,” Mr Khan said in a tweet.
The government said the military had been called in to assist in search and rescue efforts, and to airlift the injured from the rubble of mud houses in the affected areas, where many were sleeping at the time the earthquake struck.
Wounded children in blood-soaked bandages were seen outside hospitals as families rushed to get medical help.
At least nine critically injured have been moved to Quetta’s provincial hospital. Doctors have treated more than 200 injured so far, said Manzoor Ahmed, medical superintendent at Harnai’s district hospital.
Additionally, the authorities suspect several coal mine workers who survived the quake to be trapped inside the affected area, and are attempting to evacuate them.
In Harnai, stunned locals were seen wandering around the remains of their homes.
“We were scared and we didn’t know what to do. Women, children, everyone, were running here and there,” local resident Ghulam Khan said.
The region continued to see aftershocks measuring up to magnitude 4.6 yesterday morning, forcing locals to leave their houses and wait outside wrapped in blankets.
Pakistan witnessed its worst earthquake in 1935, which claimed 35,000 lives and injured tens of thousands.
The south Asian country is vulnerable to seismic activity including high-intensity earthquakes as it falls within the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, at the border between the Eurasian and Indo-Australian tectonic plates.