QUETTA, Oct 29: A strong earthquake struck various parts of northern and central Balochistan on Wednesday morning, killing over 200 people and injuring around 500 others. Hundreds of houses and government buildings were destroyed and over 15,000 people were rendered homeless.

The quake destroyed several villages in the district of Ziarat. “Around 170 people, mostly women and children, were killed in two worst affected union councils,” District Nazim Dilawar Khan told Dawn. He said the death toll could rise because hundreds of people had been injured.

With powerful aftershocks in the afternoon and evening, thousands of people were spending the chilly night in the open.

Reports of deaths were also received from Pishin, Bolan and Chaman where houses and mud-walls collapsed. Around 35 people were injured in Quetta.

However, the provincial home secretary said at a press conference in the evening that 115 bodies had been retrieved.

Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi said the death toll was over 150 and was likely to rise. He said a large-scale relief operation had been launched with the help of troops.

According to the Met office, the magnitude of the earthquake which struck at 5.10am was 6.4 on the Richter scale and its epicentre was near Ziarat, about 60kms northeast of Quetta.

The provincial government called out army and paramilitary forces for relief operation in the mountainous area of Ziarat covered with juniper trees.

Helicopters were helping the troops and civil administration to shift the seriously injured to Quetta.

Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani visited the worst affected areas and released Rs7.5 million for relief work. Tents and essential goods were sent to the affected areas.

Dozens of schools, hospitals, government buildings and mosques were destroyed and roads linking Ziarat with the affected villages were blocked by landslides.

Most houses in the worst-hit villages of Ziarat were destroyed by boulders falling from mountains.

“Twenty-two members of a family were killed in a house in Killi Malik Piao of Wam area of Ziarat.”

“I have lost 22 people of my family,” said Malik Nizamuddin.

Fifteen members of another family were buried under the debris of their house which was hit by a landslide.

“I have lost my entire family,” Haji Mohammad Hashim of the same area told Dawn.

Almost all houses in Wam, Warchun, Sarkhizai, Kan Depot, Gogi Kawas, Ahmadoon and Lori villages of Ziarat district were destroyed and most of the deaths took place in the region.

The official residence of the district coordination officer and some buildings of the local administration were also destroyed.

“Seven to 10 people were buried in one grave,” a villager said, adding that most of the victims were women and children who were sleeping in the houses. Hundreds of animals were also killed.

People from other areas of the district rushed to the affected villages and started rescue and relief work. “People provided food, warm clothes and tents to the survivors,” said Malik Sohail.

He said the earthquake had left cracks in mountains and roads and no house in the area had been left intact.

According to the local metrological office, at least 12 aftershocks were felt in Quetta and other areas.

“More aftershocks are likely in coming days,” an official said.

Many people were still believed to be under the rubble.

“The village has been flattened. You can’t see one house standing. There’s destruction everywhere,” said former MPA Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal who was supervising relief work in Wam area. Authorities used excavators to dig mass graves.

A number of people were injured when equally strong tremors hit the same areas of Ziarat in the evening. “Some workers digging a mass grave in Soi area fell into the grave because of the serve jolt,” a villager said.

An official in Ziarat, Sohailur Rehman, said the authorities were scrambling to help about 12,000 homeless people.

The army deployed helicopters and a medical team and paramilitary troops joined the search for survivors, official sources said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sent two teams to the area. “Aftershocks have continued which, we think, will force the population to stay outside, and the weather is cold,” said ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad.

According to Met office, a 5.0 magnitude tremor was felt in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan at about 4.34am. It was followed 36 minutes later by a major quake, forcing people to leave their homes.

Over a dozen people were brought to the Civil Hospital in Quetta from different areas. Most of them were injured when they jumped from buildings.

Other areas hit by the quake include Bolan, Sibi, Harnai, Pishin, Loralai, Kohlu, Mastung, Kalat, Dera Murad Jamali, Sani Shooran, Chaman, Toba Achakzai, Zhob and Qila Abdullah.

At least three people were killed in Sani Shoorn, three in Dera Murad Jamali and three in Chaman.

In Khanozai area of Pishin district, a woman and her daughter were killed when a wall of their house collapsed. A large number of houses were damaged in several villages of the district. Relief teams were also sent to Pishin.

Panicked by severe aftershocks, people in Quetta and other areas erected tents in open areas where they were spending the night.

Schools have been closed in the provincial capital for two days and in Ziarat and Karezat areas for a week.Despite the government’s relief efforts, thousands of people in the affected areas were spending the freezing night in the open.

According to an official in the badly affected area of Wam, tents had not arrived and the villagers had hunkered down in the ruined shells of their homes as temperatures plunged below zero.

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