Strong earthquake in southwest Pakistan kills at least 20 – The Denver Post

Written by Kathy Junun and Abdul Sattar

Quetta, Pakistan (AFP) – At least one coal mine and dozens of mud houses collapsed in southwest Pakistan in the early hours of Thursday morning, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 200, an official said.

Sohail Anwar Shaheen, the local deputy commissioner, said the death toll was expected to rise further as crews searched in the remote mountainous area.

Quoting coal miners in the area, Shaheen said that at least four of the dead were killed when the coal mine they were working in collapsed. As many as 100 homes also collapsed, burying the sleeping residents inside.

According to the US Geological Survey, the epicenter of the 5.9-magnitude quake was 15 km northeast of Harnai in Balochistan province. The initial measurement of the earthquake’s strength was 5.7. It struck about 9 kilometers (5.5 mi) below the Earth’s surface. Surface earthquakes tend to cause more damage.

The area, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the provincial capital Quetta, is full of coal mines, which Shaheen worries about the high death toll. He said the explosion occurred in the early morning while dozens of miners were already working.

The Pakistani army deployed in the quake zone to airlift dozens of wounded people from the mountain tops. At least nine seriously injured people were taken to the district hospital in Quetta. An army statement said search and rescue teams had reached the mountains.

Concern is growing about dozens of coal miners who may be trapped. The houses are located in mounds of mud and straw. Residents of small mountain villages were seen wandering through the rubble, stunned.

“Women and children were running here and there,” said one resident, Ghulam Khan. “We were afraid and didn’t know what to do.”

Soon, ambulances arrived to take the injured to Harnai Hospital.

Doctors treated patients outside the hospital, as aftershocks of a magnitude of 4.6 continued into the morning hours. Stretchers placed blood-stained bandages outside the hospital as ambulances carried more wounded.

“So far we have treated more than 200 wounded people,” said Mansur Ahmed, medical supervisor at Harnai District Hospital. He said the small rural establishment had been taxed to the max. Up to 15 bodies were brought there.

Most of the area’s residents live in sun-drenched mud houses, many of which have collapsed. Rescue efforts are underway, but Shaheen said it will only take hours to reach many of the hardest-hit areas.

Eyewitnesses in the area said residents were wrapped in blankets from the cold and sat on the side of the road waiting for the aftershocks to subside and for help to arrive.

The area is remote and autumn night temperatures are really cool.

The southwestern province of Balochistan is located in a seismically active region, according to the provincial disaster management authority. The worst earthquake in 1935 devastated the provincial capital of Balochistan and killed more than 35,000 people. Since then, dozens of earthquakes have rocked the province, the least populated in Pakistan, which has a population of only 12 million.

Pakistan has a population of 220 million, 60 percent of whom live in the eastern province of Punjab.

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Gannon reported from Islamabad

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