Massive Pakistan quake kills hundreds

AFP-JIJI

Pakistani rescuers hustled to reach victims Wednesday of a huge earthquake that killed more than 230 people and toppled thousands of mud-built homes when it hit the country’s southwest with enough force to create a new island off the coast.

The 7.7-magnitude quake hit Tuesday afternoon in Baluchistan province’s Awaran district — a dirt-poor expanse of land roughly the size of the Shikoku region.

Officials said 238 deaths had been confirmed as of Wednesday — 208 in Awaran district alone — with the toll expected to rise as rescue teams reach more remote villages in the region that has been shaken by more than a dozen aftershocks.

The army has sent 100 medical staff and 1,000 troops to the area to help with rescue efforts and has established a medical center in one of the worst-affected villages, Tarteej.

The navy has sent a ship carrying relief supplies to Gwadar port, near the Iranian border, and aircraft to ferry the injured to Karachi and Ormara, a naval base in Baluchistan.

The scale of the territory involved is daunting. Awaran’s population is scattered over an area of more than 21,000 sq. km.

Baluchistan makes up around 45 percent of Pakistan’s area but is the country’s least-populated and least-developed province. The area is also rife with separatist and Islamist militants.

More than 60,000 people live within 50 km of the epicenter, the U.N. disaster agency said, mostly in shoddy mud homes.

“Around 90 percent of houses in the district have been destroyed,” said Abdul Rasheed Baluch, a top official in Awaran.

Tuesday’s quake also caused a new island to appear just off Gwadar’s coast, officials said, prompting astonished locals to rush to the shore to take a look.

The National Institute of Oceanography has sent a team to survey the island, which stands about 20 meters high.