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QUETTA, April 16: A severe earthquake struck the border region of Iran and Pakistan on Tuesday afternoon. At least 40 people were killed and over 180 others injured in border towns and villages of Pakistan.

Hundreds of houses collapsed, rendering thousands of people homeless in the town of Mashkel and nearby villages in Washuk district.

The area’s communications system was destroyed. The victims included a number of women and children and it was feared that the toll might increase.

Frontier Corps troops moved into the affected area and launched a rescue and relief operation.

The effect of the quake was felt in Quetta, Karachi, Hyderabad and other major cities and towns of Sindh and Punjab. People came out of their homes and buildings and large crowds were seen on streets and in open places.

According to reports reaching here, one person was killed in Gwadar by a landslide triggered by the quake.

Walls of some houses collapsed in Panjgur and some other areas of southern Balochistan. However, no casualty or major damage was reported in other towns.

“The quake was felt for 25 to 30 seconds in Quetta and other areas of Balochistan,” officials of metrological office here said, adding that its intensity recoded in Pakistan was around 5.6 on the Richter scale.

The border town of Mashkel, with a population of around 35,000, presented a deserted look as almost all mud houses collapsed or were damaged.

“Hundreds of houses were destroyed in a few seconds and a storm of dust covered the entire town,” Mohammad Ashraf, who is in charge of the local rural health centre, told Dawn.

He said not a single mud house in the town had remained intact.

Big cracks developed in government buildings and FC personnel were shifting people to safe places.

At least six bodies and around 60 injured people were brought to the health centre whose building had also developed cracks.

Officials said 12 people had been confirmed killed and 18 injured in the town in addition to several others in adjoining villages.

Sources said a fort of the FC in Mashkel was also damaged but there was no casualty.

FC troops rushed to the worst affected areas after the dust settled and started rescue and relief work.

A large number of people were still under the debris of the collapsed houses and the death toll may increase. Relief teams, including doctors and paramedics, sent from Kharan, Dalbandin and Kharan with relief goods, tents, blankets and medicines could not reach the affected areas till late night. “These teams are expected to reach there in the morning,” official sources said.

Meanwhile, people who had lost their homes were spending the night in the open. They immediately need shelter, potable water, tents, blankets and food. The government’s water supply system was damaged and food was not available in the town because shops had also collapsed.

Balochistan Chief Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad said joint rescue and relief teams of the army and provincial government had reached the site and started work.

Kalbe Ali adds from Islamabad: The Frontier Corps, 62 Wing, which was located in area, was immediately tasked by the headquarters to undertake relief and rescue work and treat the injured.

The ISPR said that additional FC troops were being moved from Kharan to supplement relief efforts. An army team was flown by helicopters to Mashkel along with medical staff, tents and medicines.