Islamabad: At least 20 people were killed and over 300 others injured after a powerful 5.9 magnitude earthquake jolted a mountainous part of Pakistan's Balochistan province last week, collapsing several houses. Disaster management officials said the death toll may increase.
The National Seismic Monitoring Centre in Islamabad reported that the epicentre of the earthquake was near Harnai at a depth of around 15 km. It further said the "exact damage" has not yet been confirmed. The quake affected Quetta, Sibi, Harnai, Pishin, Qila Saifullah, Chaman, Ziarat and Zhob in Balochistan. Most of the deaths and injuries were reported from the remote north-eastern district of Harnai.
The US Geological Survey said it was a 5.9 magnitude quake that struck at a shallow depth. Shallow quakes can cause more damage. The death toll of 20 was confirmed by Deputy Commissioner of Harnai District Sohail Anwar Hashmi. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said many of the dead were women and children.
Aftershocks are still being felt in different areas. The earliest tremors were felt at 3:20 am after which panicked citizens rushed out of their houses reciting verses from the holy Quran. Relief and rescue activities are underway, with an emergency declared in all hospitals.
According to Hashmi, several people have been rushed to the hospital in critical condition. He said that several buildings in Harnai have been damaged. Many people were left buried under the rubble.
More than 100 mud houses have also collapsed, leaving hundreds of people homeless.
The power supply to the area has been suspended, he said.
Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani said that assistance and evacuation efforts were underway. "Blood, ambulances, emergency assistance, [helicopters] and rest all things are placed ... All departments are working on it," he tweeted.
Speaking to Geo News, PDMA Director General Naseer Ahmed Nasir said there had been landslides in mountainous areas. Home Minister Mir Ziaullah Langove said five to six districts were affected on a "major scale" and data was still being collected.
Pakistan straddles between the Indian and the Eurasian tectonic plates and is located on the Indus-Tsangpo Suture Zone, which is roughly 200 km north of the Himalaya Front, which makes this region highly susceptible to earthquakes.
The region has the highest rates of seismicity and largest earthquakes in the Himalayan region, caused mainly by movement on thrust faults. The country has suffered several earthquakes in recent years. One of the worst earthquakes to hit the country in recent years was on October 8, 2005, which killed over 74,000 people.