Quake toll rises to 38 as relief effort picks pace

September 26, 2019

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MIRPUR (AJK): Family members bring out their belongings from their damaged house in Saangmora Village on Wednesday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
MIRPUR (AJK): Family members bring out their belongings from their damaged house in Saangmora Village on Wednesday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

MUZAFFARABAD: The death toll from Tuesday’s devastating earthquake that damaged thousands of houses and road infrastructure in the southern Mirpur district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and neighbouring Jhelum district of Punjab rose to 38, officials said on Wednesday.

“Based on the information collected by the revenue department officials in the affected areas of Mirpur district by 5pm on Wednesday, I can confirm that 37 persons have lost their lives in the devastating earthquake,” said Mirpur divisional commissioner Chaudhry Mohammad Tayyab while speaking to Dawn.

The victims included 15 children (eight girls and seven boys), 10 women and 12 men, he said, adding that the youngest of them was an 18-day-old baby. Besides, 579 persons were injured and 160 of them received critical injuries, he said.

The 5.8-magnitude earthquake had jolted the federal capital and several other cities of Punjab on Tuesday. However, since its epicentre was somewhere near Samwal Sharif on the left bank of the River Jhelum in the AJK territory, almost all physical and material losses had occurred in Mirpur district, Mr Tayyab explained, while one death was reported from Jhelum.

According to him, as many as 419 concrete (pakka) houses were destroyed and around 6,500 were partially damaged in Mirpur district. Among the kacha houses, 1,200 were flattened and 500 were partially damaged, he said.

AJK premier, COAS visit quake-hit Mirpur areas; repair of 14.5km affected road under way; NDMA chief says some envoys approached him for help

Mr Tayyab said the livestock had also been badly hit by the quake, as 580 cattle head were reported to have been killed by the temblor in Mirpur district.

Also on Wednesday, the AJK government detailed Fayyaz Ali Abbasi, senior member of the Board of Revenue, to station himself in Mirpur for the next two weeks to “support/oversee the rescue, relief and rehabilitation activities”.

Mr Abbasi told Dawn that Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider presided over a meeting late Wednesday evening to assess the situation to be able to streamline the relief and rehabilitation activities. The meeting decided to conduct immediate assessment of losses in the affected areas and devise a comprehensive strategy to expedite relief and rehabilitation work, he said.

It was told that a pro forma had already been issued for assessment of the losses and initial assessment would be done within two days, he added.

Mr Abbasi said the meeting also decided to “organise” work of non-governmental organisations in the affected areas. Among other decisions, he said, the meeting resolved to strictly implement building codes during the process of reconstruction.

The prime minister directed the authorities to submit him progress reports on a daily basis. “We have to remain on our toes and discharge our duties on a war footing,” Mr Haider.

Earlier in the day, Mr Haider undertook a second tour to the divisional headquarters hospital, Mirpur, where he inquired after the health of the injured.

Accompanied by former premier Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, Mr Haider directed the health department to ensure that all health facilities in the quake affected areas had sufficient stock of life-saving drugs.

Later, he visited Jatlan, Morra Keikri, Saang, Pull Manda, Kharri Sharif and other affected areas to see the impact of damage to public and private infrastructure as well as monitor the rescue and relief operation.

Lauding the courage and resilience of Kashmiri people, the AJK prime minister appreciated the civil society of Mirpur for generously supporting the quake victims. “It’s not only a moment of grief and trial but a challenge for us to help out our affected brethren,” he said, assuring the survivors that “we are not alone but the entire Pakistani nation, government and the armed forces stands behind us in this yet another critical phase”.

Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa visits an earthquake-affected area of Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday.—Online
Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa visits an earthquake-affected area of Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday.—Online

Army chief visits AJK

After an aerial view of the quake-hit areas of the AJK, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa also took round of some spots on foot and surveyed the ongoing efforts to repair damages at Jatlan Canal Road, according to a tweet by Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media affairs wing.

“Normalcy be restored with speed rendering full assistance to civil administration and taking best possible care of the affected population,” the army chief was quoted by the ISPR chief as saying.

Dr Firdous, NDMA chief visit Jatlan

Prime Minister’s special assistant on information and broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chief Lt-Gen Muhammad Afzal also visited Jatlan where the latter told journalists 14.5-kilometre Jatlan Road had been affected and 20 machines of army and 16 machines of AJK highways department had been working to make it useable for light vehicles by Thursday afternoon.

The NDMA chief said more than 200 tents, 800 blankets and 200 kitchen sets, tarpaulins and first aid kits and other stuff had been dispatched to the affected areas.

He said he had been contacted by some envoys with offers of help “but we have told them that we do not need it immediately. If ever we needed anything, we will let it known to everyone, but I am sure this situation will not arise.”

Dr Awan said she had assured the AJK prime minister that the government of Pakistan was standing with the people of Kashmir in this hour of trial. “We won’t raise any parallel set-up but we will support, strengthen and facilitate AJK institutions engaged in relief and rehabilitation activities,” she said, adding that it would be a coordinated effort by Muzaffarabad and Islamabad.

Meanwhile, educational institutions in Mirpur and Bhimber remained closed on Wednesday as people struggled to clear debris and revive the normal life. They said they had overcome the fear that had gripped them yesterday. “We had heard of the devastating earthquake of 2005 that had razed most parts of our northern districts. Yesterday we had a glimpse of it in Mirpur. But thanks the life has been returning to normalcy,” said Shabnam Kauser, a Mirpur resident.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2019