KARACHI: Pakistani rescuers have pulled 160 bodies from the rubble of hundreds of mud-walled homes in Baluchistan province after a powerful earthquake hit the area on Wednesday, a district government official said.
The US Geological Survey said a 6.4 magnitude quake hit 60 km (40 miles) northeast of the provincial capital, Quetta. Pakistan's Meteorological Department put the magnitude at 6.5 and said the quake struck at 5.10 am. (2310 GMT).
Many people were believed to be buried under rubble, officials said. Pakistan is no stranger to natural disasters. In October 2005, about 73,000 people were killed when a 7.6 magnitude quake hit northern mountains. Last year, the worst floods on record in Baluchistan killed hundreds.
The epicentre of Wednesday's quake was near the scenic valley of Ziarat, one of the main tourist spots in Baluchistan. "Our rescuers are still working but we've recovered 160 bodies from various villages in Ziarat," said the district's chief administrator, Dilawar Khan.
The quake injured scores of people and triggered landslides that destroyed about 1,500 houses and blocked roads. Rescuers were still trying to reach some remote places in mountains above the Ziarat valley, where many people were believed to be buried.
Ziarat district has a population of about 50,000. The army had sent helicopters and a medical team and paramilitary troops were also helping with the rescue, the military said.
Another senior official in Ziarat, Sohail-ur-Rehman, said authorities were scrambling to help about 12,000 homeless people and to bury the dead.
"Graves are being dug with excavators as we can't keep dead bodies in the open," Rehman said.
Five people had been killed in neighbouring Pishin district, to the north of Quetta, district government officials
said. "We were fast asleep when the tremor struck. We grabbed the children and ran outside. The earth continued shaking for more than a minute," said Habibullah, a resident of Pishin.
He said no one had been hurt in his neighbourhood, which was being hit by aftershocks. The head of a national disaster management team, Farooq Ahmed Khan, said about 300 rescue workers had reached Ziarat. Tents, blankets and clothing were being flown in.
Officials and hospital staff said scores of people had been injured, most when houses collapsed or in the panic when people rushed from their homes.
The Meteorological Department said two tremors had struck before dawn, the second one bigger than the first. Quetta resident Amjad Hussain said there had been panic in the city.
"There were two tremors, the second one was serious and people rushed out of their houses," Hussain said. In 1935, about 30,000 people were killed and Quetta was largely destroyed by a severe earthquake.
Large parts of south Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate, known as the Indian plate, is pushing north into the Eurasian plate.
Baluchistan is Pakistan's largest province but its most thinly populated. It has the country's biggest reserves of
natural gas but there were no reports of damage to gas facilities.
7 months ago