Rescuers race to reach quake zones in Afghanistan, Pakistan as toll nears 300

Rescuers race to reach quake zones in Afghanistan, Pakistan as toll nears 300

KABUL/ISLAMABAD, October 27 (Reuters) – Rescuers on Tuesday rushed to deliver relief aid to victims of a massive earthquake that hit northern Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing at least 275 people over a wide swath of mostly mountainous terrain.

 

Thousands spent the night outdoors in near-freezing temperatures reluctant to go back inside for fear of aftershocks, Pakistani media reported.

 

“Rescue work is ongoing, and tents, blankets and sleeping mats are being provided,” Latif ur Rehman, a Pakistani disaster management official, told Reuters from the northwestern city of Peshawar.

 

Pakistan’s military and civilian authorities dispatched several helicopters to affected areas to assess damage and run rescue operations, the National Disaster Management Authority said. Landslides in mountainous northern Pakistan over the weekend caused by heavy rain and snow had already left thousands of tourists stranded.

 

The earthquake struck almost exactly six months after Nepal suffered its worst quake on record on April 25. Including the toll from a major aftershock in May, 9,000 people lost their lives there and 900,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

 

In Afghanistan, where rescue and relief work is likely to be complicated by security threats created by an escalating Taliban insurgency, more than 50 people were reported dead in several provinces including Badakhshan, where hundreds were killed in mudslides last year.

 

Hundreds of houses were destroyed, creating additional hardship with winter temperatures setting in.

 

The death toll could climb in coming days because communications were down in much of the rugged Hindu Kush mountain range where the quake was centred.

 

In Pakistan, 228 people were confirmed dead.

 

The initial magnitude 7.5 quake on Monday afternoon was followed by seven aftershocks, measuring as high as magnitude 4.8, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The latest aftershock came just before dawn on Tuesday.

 

The United States and Iran were among countries that offered to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, which already depends heavily on foreign aid after decades of war that have wrecked its economy and infrastructure.

 

The quake was 213 km (132 miles) deep and centred 254 km (158 miles) northeast of Kabul.

 

Dr. John Ebel, chairman of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Boston College in the United States, said the depth of the earthquake had limited its severity and meant damage was likely to be spread broadly rather than focused in one disaster zone.

 

But he said landslides on the unstable slopes of the mountainous region could pose a major problem.

 

“Obviously if a landslide comes into a village, it will take out buildings, but landslides can also take out roads and communications and power systems, so you lose the ability to access remote areas,” he said.

 

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. Agency for International Development was ready to provide emergency shelter and relief supply kits.

 

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in London en route from an official visit to the U.S., said he would personally oversee the rescue efforts.

 

“We will try our best to deal with this disaster using our own resources,” he said.

Kashmiri girls stand on a roadside after vacating a building following an earthquake in Srinagar October 26, 2015. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
Kashmiri girls stand on a roadside after vacating a building following an earthquake in Srinagar October 26, 2015. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

 

Quake jolts north India, Modi offers help to Kabul, Islamabad

 

New Delhi, Oct 26 (IANS) An earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter Scale and with its epicentre in Afghanistan shook large parts of north India, causing widespread panic. Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately offered help to Afghanistan and Pakistan where over a dozen people were killed.

 

Hundreds of thousands of people fled out of their houses and offices in Delhi and adjoining areas as well as in parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. There were no reports of casualties but there was major damage to property in Kashmir.

 

The tremors, around 2.40 p.m., were distinctly felt for 30-40 seconds, shaking high-rise buildings all across north India. The epicentre of the quake lay in Jarm in Afghanistan, 256 km northeast of Kabul.

 

Most multi-storey public and private buildings in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, suffered huge cracks. Dozens of houses and school buildings collapsed in southern and central parts of the Kashmir Valley, officials and residents said.

 

Traffic came to an abrupt halt as vehicles started swinging on shaking roads in the valley. A traffic flyover in Srinagar developed cracks.

 

Prime Minister Modi said India was ready to provide help to Kabul and Islamabad.

 

“Heard about strong earthquake in Afghanistan-Pakistan region whose tremors have been felt in parts of India. I pray for everyone’s safety,” he tweeted.

 

“I have asked for an urgent assessment, and we stand ready for assistance where required, including Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said.

 

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked people not to panic and said disaster management teams had been activated.

 

Among the first to tweet in the Modi government was Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who said as if someone with a firm hand was moving her chair.

 

“Massive, massive… praying,” is how Delhi’s Tourism Minister Kapil Mishra reacted.

 

As the tremors began, Delhi Metro immediately halted its services all across the capital and in the neighbouring regions of Gurgaon in Haryana and Noida in Uttar Pradesh. Jaipur Metro too followed suit.

 

A Delhi Metro spokesman told IANS that the services were resumed after officials did a quick check for possible damage to infrastructure and rail tracks.

 

The worst hit were Afghanistan and Pakistan. There were no immediate reports of casualties from Afghanistan but Pakistani officials said around 13 people had been killed in different parts of the country.

 

India’s ambassador in Kabul, Amar Singh, told IANS over telephone that he had no report of any casualty or damage to property among Indians.

 

Afghanistan soon felt a major aftershock — measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale.

 

The quake was felt in most of the northern parts of Pakistan including major cities like Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Sargodha and Kohat, Dawn and other Pakistani media quoted officials as saying.

 

Four people were killed in the Bajaur tribal region near the Afghanistan border after buildings collapsed in the area.

 

A child was killed in Kallar Kahar in Chakwal district and six people were killed in Swat Valley. One woman died in Sargodha in Punjab when a wall collapsed, also injuring 10 people. A man was killed in Kasur district.

 

At least 200 people were admitted to a hospital in Swat and another 100 in a Peshawar hospital, officials said.

 

Dunya News said a part of Bala Hissar fort in Peshawar had been damaged.

 

Pakistan puts its army on alert, and directed it to carry out immediate rescue work in affected areas without waiting for formal orders.

 

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa tweeted that army teams had been sent out for a quick assessment of earthquake damages across the country.

 

All command military hospitals were placed on high alert.

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