QUETTA/KARACHI: At least 217 people were killed and 350 others were wounded after a 7.7 magnitude earthqauke struck the southwestern province of Balochistan, which also prompted a new island to rise from the sea just off Pakistan's southern coast, officials said.
Home Secretary Asad Gilani told Dawn.com on Wednesday that the earthquake had claimed the lives of 208 people and injured 350 others.
Furthermore, the deaths of seven more people were reported from Turbat city in Kech district of Balochistan.
He added that the long distance and disrupted road routes were causing obstacles to the relief efforts.
Chief Minister Balochistan Dr Abdul Malik Baloch had earlier declared an emergency in Awaran and five other districts and had ordered deputy commissioners of all 30 districts of the province to remain on high alert in the aftermath of deadly quake.
Army and Frontier Corps troops were called in to carry out rescue and relief work.
A large number of people were rescued from the debris of houses and the injured were given emergency medical aid by army and FC doctors and paramedics.
“Over 80 per cent mud-houses have collapsed or have been badly damaged in Awaran,” Chief Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad told Dawn, adding that casualties and losses in several remote areas had also been reported but rescue teams had not been able to reach those places till late in the night.
The quake affected several districts of Balochistan, including Quetta, at 4.29pm and continued shaking the areas for about one minute, forcing people to rush out of their homes. Kunri area of Awaran district was the epicentre of the quake. At least four aftershocks of 5.6 magnitude were felt in most areas.
Thousands of houses collapsed or were badly damaged in towns and villages of Awaran.
Balochistan Assembly’s Deputy Speaker Mir Abdul Quddoos Bezinjo, elected from the Awaran constituency, claimed that the death toll was higher than so far announced by officials.
According to sources, at least 11 people, including a woman and a girl, were killed in Kech district and over 20 houses collapsed in Dandar village of Hoshab teshil and near Turbat.
According to local people, a leader of the Balochistan National Party-M, Munir Ahmed Mirwani, died in Awaran.
The phone and road links between several areas and the rest of the country were severed, adding to the difficulties of the rescue teams.
Awaran Deputy Commissioner Rashid Baloch said almost all houses and shops in the town and nearby villages had been destroyed or damaged. He said at least 19 people had died in the town, while reports of losses from remote areas were yet to be received.
“We have launched a rescue and relief operation in the affected areas in collaboration with the army and Frontier Corps,” the official said.
He said immediate supply of tents, food and medicines was needed for thousands of people rendered homeless.
The FC said its teams were carrying out rescue and relief work in Awaran Bazaar, Bedi, Labach, Pirandar, Terteej, Jhaol, Mashkay and other areas of the district.
FC sources added that a Levies camp in Awaran had also been destroyed.
Local people said no building in the town, including those of hospitals, schools and government buildings, remained intact.
“There is no proper place for providing shelter to the affected people,” local journalist Shabir Rakhsani said, adding that a large number of women and children were out in the open, waiting for help. He said that the local administration had provided some tents but they were not adequate because thousands of homeless people needed shelter.
The government of Balochistan has dispatched 1000 tents, 500 food bags, medicines, 15 ambulances towards Awaran, Jan Buledi, the spokesman for Balochistan government told Dawn.com.
Addressing a press conference, Buledi said that the earthquake affected six districts in the province and that Awaran was the worst affected district where hundreds of mud-walled houses were demolished as result of the powerful earthquake.
Buledi said the districts include Kech, Gwadar, Khuzdar, Chaghi, Awaran and Panjgoor. “An emergency has been imposed in all districts to help the earthquake survivors,” he said.
The spokesman said the provincial government's first priority was to rescue the earthquake survivors. “Rehabilitation is second priority,” he added.
He said that the earthquake has severely affected the communication system in the affected districts.
Buledi said a large number of injured people had been taken to the Khuzdar Civil Hospital and teams of doctors and paramedics had been sent to the affected areas from Lasbela and other districts.
In response to a question about demanding foreign aid, he said, “after assessing the damages, we would make the decision in this regard.”
Provincial Finance Secretary Dostain Jamaldini said the governments of Iran and Turkey had offered to send relief for the affected people.
He said the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and governments of Punjab and Sindh had also offered help.
“On an offer made by the Sindh chief secretary, we have asked him to send two truckloads of medicines to areas of Awaran adjacent to Sindh,” he said.
The Pakistan Army has dispatched two helicopters with food packets, medicines and other relief goods.
An official said the PDMA had sent 13 trucks with relief goods, including 500 packets of food and 700 tents, to Awaran.
The chief spokesman for Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority, Mirza Kamran Zia, said most of the casualties occurred when houses collapsed on people inside.
Deputy Commissioner Awaran, Abdul Rasheed Baloch said a rescue operation was launched in the area and all forces were placed on high alert to retrieve the people from the rubble. He said there were reports that hundreds of mud- houses in the district had also collapsed during tremors.
Meanwhile, a team of doctors and paramedics, going from Mashkel town to quake-hit Awaran district, was attacked by unknown gunmen with no immediate reports of any casualty.
Security sources told Dawn.com that the unknown miscreants opened fire at the rescue team near Mashkel check post. However, the team remained unharmed.
According to the US Geoplogical Survery, the intensity of the quake was measured at 7.8 on the Richter scale while the Pakistan meteorological office said the epicentre was located near Kharan area of Balochistan.
Mohammad Hanif, an official at the meteorological department, said the intensity was measured at 7.7 on the Ricther Scale, which he described as a “very strong earthquake”.
According to television reports, aftershocks were felt all over Balochistan including Quetta, the provincial capital. The earthquake was also felt in the adjoining province of Sindh, including cities of Karachi, Jacobabad, Khairpur, and Nowshero Feroz.
According to AFP, the quake was felt as far away as in New Delhi and Dubai and its epicentre was 15km below ground.
In April a 7.8-magnitude quake centred in southeast Iran, close to the border with Balochistan, killed 41 people and affected more than 12,000 on the Pakistani side of the border.
Quake creates new Island off Gwadar coast
The earthquake was so powerful that it caused the seabed to rise and create a small, mountain-like island about 600 meters (yards) off Gwadar coastline in the Arabian Sea.
A large number of people had gathered near the coast to witness the emergence of the island.
“The island popped up soon after the earthquake. Our staff stationed in Gwadar has reported that the island is about one and a half kilometres away from the coastline,” Dr Asif Inam, the Principal Scientific Officer of the National Institute of Oceanography, said.
“The island appears to be about 200 metres long, 20 metres high and 100 metres wide. But all this information needs to be verified scientifically. Detailed information will be available tomorrow when the staff visit the site and collect samples,” he added.
An NIO team from Karachi will also visit the site this week.
According to scientists, the Makran coastal belt is reported to have extensive reserves of frozen methane that exist in the form of gas hydrates (crystalline water-based solids physically resembling ice, formed under conditions of relatively high pressures and low temperatures) hundreds of metres below the sea floor. And whenever this highly pressurised gas finds a weak space to release some of its energy, a dome-like structure (island) is created within the waters or it emerges on the sea surface.
“The space to release energy could be formed due to tectonic movements, creating some fractures and fissures in the strata. Sometimes, the structures do not come out of the water and so go unnoticed,” Dr Inam said.
Explaining the topography of the area, Dr Inam said that it was an active seismic region where three tectonic plates — Indian, Eurasian and Arabian — were converging. “The area is required to be mapped in detail to ascertain the potentially hazardous parts. Besides, the area could be explored to overcome the energy crisis.”
According to Dr Inam, the analysis of previously tested gas samples taken from the water column of the Malan island showed that it contained methane, ethane, propane and butane.
All data pointed to the presence of microbiologically generated bacterial methane, excluding thermogenic gas.
It’s the third time in 15 years that such a phenomenon has occurred along the Balochistan coast. Earlier, islands emerged in 1999 and in 2011 at a distance of two kilometres from the Makran coast near the point where the Hingol River drains into the sea.
Both islands emerged without an earthquake and collapsed due to strong currents and winds. The same area witnessed an island’s emergence in 1945, following an earthquake.