MASHKEL (Balochistan), April 17: It’s like a scene from hell. Scores of people are dead, hundreds injured, thousands of houses and shops destroyed or badly damaged, and almost all the residents of this remote place are living out in the open with little sign of any real help or assistance. People of the remote-border town of Mashkel may have been living in abject poverty for ages, but they never expected that further misery would hit them in the form of a massive earthquake. As the earth shook for a few seconds on Tuesday as a result of 7.8 quake, everything for the people of the area was lost. And as they make efforts to retrieve their belongings from the destroyed houses and shops, and move the sheep and goats to safe places, some of them believe the life will never be the same again.
Mashkel is a remote village on the Pakistan-Iran border and the worst affected because of the earthquake. Most of its residents are dependent on Iran for their livelihood. Thousands of its residents hold nationalities of both Iran and Pakistan. Most of the residents bring petroleum and oil from Iran and sell it in Balochistan. Some residents also have date farms in the town. Iran border is almost 20 kilometres from Mashkel. It took about 20 hours for a group of journalists, including the DawnNews correspondent to reach the affected area from Quetta by road.
On reaching this remote town, this correspondent was unable to spot a single mud house intact. Most of them had been completely razed. Others had been partially damaged; but with damaged roof and big cracks in the walls, they were visibly unliveable. People were busy pulling out broken beds and other stuff.
Haji Abdur Rasheed Reiki, the head of elders of Mashkel, is a worried man. “No help has reached us. It is just the military which is helping us in a limited way. There are no signs of any civilian administration or medical aid. We need food and drinking water desperately. The weather is very hot too. It will take weeks for us to rebuild our houses. But for that we need help.”
Reiki said that most families are taking shelter for the moment under the trees.
Dost Mohammed, a vegetable vendor, saw his shop and house destroyed. Facing an uncertain future, he has already started rebuilding his house but still worried about his business. “My shop is gone and I don’t know if the government will help us to rebuild our shops and houses,” he said.
“Right now there is no hope as no one is coming for our help. We are very far away from cities but I request my brothers in other parts of the province to send us help,” Dost Mohammed said.
Several residents told DawnNews that when the earthquake struck Mashkel, there was not a single doctor present in the village. There was a rural health centre operated by a lone dispenser who could not cater to the injured. This resulted in additional casualties which otherwise could have been avoided had the prompt medical help reached. Still not a single ambulance is available in the area.
Residents complained that Deputy Commissioner Washuk Khan Jan did not visit the area and was not in contact because of the destruction of the communication system.
During the day some relief effort had started with army helicopters bringing in emergency medicine and other necessary stuff. But it immediately became obvious that much more was needed in the form of water and food, and makeshift tents for those who had survived the natural calamity. According to the ISPR, five helicopters have already shipped tents, medicines and 1,800 kilograms of rations to the area. A field medical facility has been established in Mashkel. Three vehicles of Islamic Relief NGO have also arrived. But for the population of almost 40,000 these seem to be not enough. An aftershock on Wednesday morning also shook the area and the people are still in panic and fear.
According to the National Disaster Management Authority, Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan moved its elements from Mashkel, Panjgur, Nokundi and Kharan. At least 160 persons of FC along with a doctor and some paramedics were immediately available in the area to provide support to the civil administration.
So far 105 injured persons have been treated. Sixteen critically injured who were flown by helicopters during the night to Sheikh Hospital Dalbandin, have now reached Combined Military Hospital Quetta by helicopter for better treatment.
PDMA Balochistan has dispatched 20 trucks carrying 110 food packets, 350 tents, 100 bags of Dal (50kg each), 100 water coolers, 100 lamps, 100 bags of sugar and 10 bags of tea (50kg each). These trucks will be reaching Mashkel by night or in early hours of Thursday.
AFP adds: While some survivors in Mashkel offered prayers for the dead, others dug through rubble with spades and even knives to try to recover their belongings.
“We often feel tremors here, but this was the worst I’ve ever seen in my life. I thought a bulldozer was passing by close to my house,” Abdul Ghafoor, who is about 50, said.
“All the homes are mud homes. A lot of walls fell. There was a lot of dust so I couldn’t see what was happening. Thank God my family and I are safe.”
The area’s scattered population made determining the death toll difficult, but Frontier Corps Major Attiq Minhas told AFP at Dalbandin airport that at least 40 people had died.
On the Iranian side of the border, one woman was reported killed by falling rocks and the Red Crescent rushed 400 tents to shelter some 1,700 people who lost their homes in the quake.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon expressed condolences after Tuesday’s disaster and said the UN stood ready to help if needed.