Rescue work expands in quake-hit Pakistan, Afghanistan

AP News
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Posted: Oct 27, 2015 12:44 AM
Rescue work expands in quake-hit Pakistan, Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Authorities in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan intensified rescue and relief operations Tuesday in rugged, earthquake-affected areas as the death toll rose to at least 270.

Monday's 7.5-magnitude quake was centered deep beneath the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan's sparsely populated Badakhshan province, which borders Pakistan, Tajikistan and China, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Pakistani government official Amir Afaq said Tuesday that civil and military authorities had reached the remote, impoverished areas in the country's northwest to help the quake victims. "We are transporting tents, medicines and other items to quake-hit areas," he said. The quake damaged nearly 2,000 homes in the area, he said.

Troops and military doctors had reached the quake zone and were engaged in rescue work, Pakistani army spokesman Lt. Gen. Asil Saleem Bajwa said.

The quake shook buildings in the Afghan capital of Kabul early Monday afternoon for up to 45 seconds, creating cracks in walls and shutting down power. Frightened workers who had just returned from lunch break rushed out of swaying buildings in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and the Indian capital of New Delhi.

"I was praying when the massive earthquake rattled my home. I came out in a panic," said Munir Anwar of Liaquat Pur in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province.

At least 237 people were killed in Pakistan, with more than 1,500 injured, while Afghan officials reported 33 dead and more than 200 injured. Authorities in the Indian-controlled Kashmir region reported two deaths. Officials expected the toll to rise as they reach remote areas.

Authorities struggled to reach the hardest-hit areas in Afghanistan near the epicenter, located 73 kilometers (45 miles) south of Fayzabad, the capital of Badakhshan province.

Abdul Humayoon Dehqan, the head of the National Disaster Management Authority's provincial office, said he knew of only 12 dead and 20 injured in the province, mostly in collapsed buildings, and that his teams would not reach affected areas until Tuesday to get a better count.

Despite vast mineral deposits, Badakhshan is one of Afghanistan's poorest provinces. It is often hit by earthquakes, but casualty figures are usually low because it is so sparsely populated, with fewer than 1 million people spread across its vast mountains and valleys. It also suffers from floods, snowstorms and mudslides.

Taliban-led insurgents have used its remote valleys as cover recently to seize districts as they spread their footprint across the country. Dehqan said some districts remain under Taliban control "and we don't know how we will be able to help people in those areas."

In Takhar province, west of Badakhshan, 12 students at a girls' school were killed in a stampede as they fled shaking buildings, said Sonatullah Taimor, the spokesman for the provincial governor. Another 42 girls were taken to a hospital in the provincial capital of Taluqan.

The U.S. said it has emergency shelters and relief supply kits stored in warehouses throughout Afghanistan that could be used. White House spokesman Josh earnest says the U.S. government has been in touch with officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is ready to provide any additional support.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was traveling, said in a televised comment from London that he planned to fly to the quake-affected region Tuesday. He called the quake a "tragedy," saying most of the casualties and damage were reported in remote areas in the country's northwest.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had contacted Sharif to offer help, Pakistani state-run media said. Pakistani TV said Sharif thanked Modi for the offer but provided no further details.

Pakistan will not issue any appeals to the international community for help as the country has the required resources to carry out the rescue and relief work, said Information Minister Pervez Rashid.

"We have enough resources to handle the situation. Our top priority is to help those affected because of the earthquake," Rashid told a news conference.

Pakistan was hit by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake of Oct. 8, 2005, that killed more than 80,000 people and left more than 3 million homeless, most in the northwest of the country and in the divided region of Kashmir.

That quake was much shallower than Monday's — 10 kilometers (6 miles) below the surface, compared with 213 kilometers (130 miles) — and thus caused greater damage, said Mohammad Hanif, an official at the Meteorological Department.

In Srinagar, the main city in the India-controlled portion of Kashmir, tremors caused buildings to sway and electrical wires to swing wildly, residents said.

People ran from buildings shouting, crying and chanting religious hymns to try to keep calm.

"I thought it was the end of the world," shopkeeper Iqbal Bhat said.

Kashmir's Chief Secretary B.R. Sharma said the quake had caused limited damage, though in some areas "many houses and government buildings have developed cracks, and some have also partially collapsed."

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Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan. Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez in Kabul; Munir Ahmed and Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Pakistan; Roshan Mughal in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan; Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan; Sherin Zada in Mingora, Pakistan; Aqeel Ahmed in Mansehra, Pakistan; Asim Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan; Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India; and Nirmala George in New Delhi contributed to this report.