Pakistan

Pakistan quake kills more than 100, toll seen higher

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By Gul Yousafzai

KARACHI, Oct 29 (Reuters) - More than 100 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck southwest Pakistan on Wednesday bringing down hundreds of mud-walled houses, and the death toll was expected to rise, government officials said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said a 6.4 magnitude quake hit 60 km (40 miles) northeast of Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province. Pakistan's Meteorological Department put the magnitude at 6.5 and said the quake struck at 5.10 a.m. (2310 GMT).

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, and 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.

Provincial Revenue Minister Zamrak Khan said more than 100 people had been killed and the toll was likely to rise.

"Eight villages in Ziarat have been badly affected and there are still many areas which have not yet been reached," Khan told Reuters.

Many people were buried under rubble, officials said.

In hilly Ziarat district, many houses had been destroyed in landslides triggered by the quake, a district official said.

"Hundreds of mud houses have collapsed. We are using whatever resources we have to help the people and have asked for help from the provincial government," said Ziarat district chief Dilawar Khan. "There is a large number of injured."

Some roads had been blocked by landslides and army helicopters were helping with the rescue. But teams had yet to reach remote places in mountains above the Ziarat valley, Khan said. Ziarat district has a population of about 50,000.

PANIC

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. The army was sending a field hospital while tents, blankets and clothing were also 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.

About 30,000 people were killed and Quetta was largely destroyed in a severe earthquake in 1935.

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.

(Additional reporting by Saeed Ali Achakzai, Zeeshan Haider, Kamran Haider and Augustine Anthony; writing by Robert Birsel; editing by Roger Crabb)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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