• Over 400 injured in 5.8-magnitude earthquake
• Hundreds of houses, vehicles and other infrastructure damaged
• Cellular phone service, electricity supply in rural areas suspended
• ISPR says army teams have reached affected areas, are carrying out rescue operation
• NDMA chairman says Mangla dam is completely safe
MUZAFFARABAD/ISLAMABAD: A 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck southern Mirpur district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on Tuesday, leaving at least 25 persons, including women and children, dead and around 400 others injured, many of them seriously, officials said.
Occurring at about 4pm, the shallow quake hit 22.3 kilometres north of Jhelum, along the boundary separating the agricultural heartland of Punjab and AJK, according to the US Geological Survey. A soldier is among the dead.
“The quake was 10km deep and felt in most of Punjab and some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, the worst hit was Mirpur district of Azad Kashmir,” chief meteorologist Mohammad Riaz was quoted by TV channels as saying.
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal said the situation was under control and rescue operation was under way.
Mohammad Tayyab, Mirpur Divisional Commissioner, told Dawn that since the epicentre of the earthquake was within the AJK territory, on the left bank of the River Jhelum, it had played havoc between Jatlan and Khari Sharif, damaging hundreds of houses, vehicles and other infrastructure, in addition to causing physical losses.
He said as many as 12 persons had died either on way to or at the Divisional Headquarters Hospital, Mirpur, while around 13 had lost their lives in different villages between Jatlan and Khari Sharif within the jurisdiction of Afzalpur and Mangla police stations. Of the injured persons, 150 were retained at the DHQ Hospital, five shifted to CMH Mangla and as many to CMH Rawalpindi. The rest had been sent home after necessary treatment, he said.
The cellular phone service and electricity supply in rural areas had been suspended due to which people were unable to contact their near and dear ones immediately.
In Mirpur city, people said they were caught off guard by the unexpected calamity.
“I was in my house when it started trembling [...] The ceiling developed cracks and the items on shelves started falling down,” said Waheed Hameed Butt, a resident of F-1 Sector in Mirpur.
“We rushed outside and were joined by almost everyone from the entire neighbourhood. Children were crying and elders were reciting kalima. I have never experienced such a harrowing earthquake in this area,” said the 40-year-old father of three.
In Mirpur University of Science and Technology (MUST), located along Chowk-i-Shaheedan, an eighth semester student from Gilgit-Baltistan, identified as Hameedullah, got so much panicked that he jumped from the second floor of building and was seriously injured. He died on way to hospital, Mr Butt said.
Chaudhry Mohammad Saeed, AJK Minister for Sports, Youth and Culture, who represents Mirpur city in the AJK legislature, told Dawn that a state of emergency had been declared in all public and private hospitals of the town.
Mr Tayyab said the quake had also caused breaches in Upper Jhelum canal at different points from where water had spilled over to adjacent areas. However, 95 per cent of the canal water was diverted to River Jhelum, he said.
Two bridges over the canal had been badly damaged, he said, adding that the road running parallel to the canal had either sunk or developed wide cracks.
Pictures and visuals shared by residents showed the quake had left several vehicles either toppled or damaged by the debris of fallen boundary walls.
Mr Tayyab said the civilian administration was being assisted by army teams in rescue operation as well as treatment of the injured.
Within an hour of the tragedy, Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said in a tweet that the army chief had directed immediate rescue operation in aid of civil administration for the victims of the earthquake in AJK. Army troops with aviation and medical support teams [had been] dispatched, he added.
Later, in a brief statement, the ISPR said the army aviation helicopters had completed aerial survey for damage assessment in Mirpur, Jhari Kas and Jatlan areas. “The army teams have reached the affected areas and rescue efforts have been initiated,” the statement added.
“The situation is calm and under control. Rescue teams are moving from village to village to assess losses as well as needs of the survivors,” Mr Tayyab said.
In a most immediate alert, the NDMA warned against likely chances of aftershocks in the next 24 hours and asked all regional disaster management bodies to take all necessary precautionary measures to avoid any [further] loss of lives and damage to public and private property.
Dr Mirza Shahid Baig, a former head of the AJK University’s geology department, said that New Mirpur (affected area) was situated on the Samwal-Jharik Kass active fault line which had multiple earthquake history. “Earlier the fault line was activated during the 2005 earthquake with infrastructure damages and today it has been reactivated with 5.9-magnitude earthquake,” he said.
“The aftershocks are going to occur within next 3-4 months because the New Mirpur area lies in the active sub-Himalayan mountain belt,” he said, asking the people and administration in the area to remain prepared for any eventuality.
AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider, who was in Lahore since Monday to attend some Kashmir-related events, cut short his visit and reached Mirpur “to supervise rescue, relief and rehabilitation services,” his office said in a statement.
The prime minister visited the DHQ Hospital and took a briefing from the divisional and district administration on the impact of losses and rescue and relief operation.
It’s the second major earthquake to have hit AJK in two decades. Earlier in 2005, more than 46,000 people were killed in northern districts of AJK, mainly Muzaffarabad, after being hit by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake. The overall deaths were more than 73,000 as parts of neighbouring KP province were also hit by that earthquake. However, southern AJK districts, including Kotli, Mirpur and Bhimber, had remained unaffected by the 2005 earthquake.
In October 2015, a young boy was killed and his sibling and another boy were injured in Islamgarh town of Mirpur after the boundary wall of a house had fallen on them due to an earthquake.
Mangla Dam safe
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, NDMA Chairman Lt Gen Afzal said: “”Right now, I can confirm the death of 10 people; whereas some reports say 17 people died and others say 15 people lost their lives. Approximately, 100 people are injured, but some reports say 300. Some of them only suffered minor injuries, so if I were to count those with serious injuries, the figure is around 100.”
The NDMA chairman said the exact loss of public and private property would be estimated in two to four days. He said eight bodies were in Mirpur hospital and two others at a different place.
Responding to a question, he did not rule out aftershocks, but said there was nothing serious as tens of fault lines were present in the whole country. He said Mangla Dam was completely safe and only turbine operations were shut down because a lot of silt had accumulated in the reservoir due to the earthquake.
“The dam is being drained to flush the silt after which normal operations will resume; water is being released in a highly regulated manner and about 50,000 cusecs are released to avoid flooding in Jhelum and PD [Pind Dadan] Khan,” he added.
Gen Afzal said the worst-hit areas included Mirpur city, small town Jatla and two small villages Manda and Afzalpur where infrastructure had been damaged by the quake. “Besides this, some injuries as well as small structural damages have been reported in some far-flung villages in Bhimber,” he added.
He said the main road between Mangla and Jatla, running alongside a river, had been badly damaged. “Three major bridges have also been damaged.”
He said the NMDA and other relevant organisations would first complete the rescue operation and then go for relief and rehabilitation work.
“NDMA officers as well as army troops have been dispatched to the affected areas. Besides, the district administration teams, State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) teams and our teams are already present in the disaster-hit areas,” he added.
Gen Afzal said 200 tents, 800 blankets, 200 kitchen sets and 100 medical kits had been dispatched to the affected areas and these will be provided to the people by Wednesday. He said the DMA Punjab had volunteered 20 ambulances, medical teams and six rescue vehicles along with a team of 100 rescue officials, while the army’s search and rescue team was already on its way. “Forces from Jhelum and Mangla cantonments have begun to arrive,” he said, adding that rescue and search teams from Islamabad and Lahore would also be dispatched to the affected areas.
The NDMA chairman said that over the next few days a plan would be chalked out for rehabilitation, recovery and restoration of normalcy in the quack-hit areas.
Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2019