21 killed, 320 injured as quake jolts parts of Pakistan

ISLAMABAD — Rescue efforts are in progress after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake jolted parts of Pakistan, killing 21 people and injuring more than 320 others, police said.

The worst-affected area was Mirpur district of the Pakistan-controlled Kashmir where 20 people lost their lives and more than 300 others were wounded, while one woman was killed and 20 others were injured in neighboring Jhelum district in the country’s eastern Punjab province, police officers of the respective districts told local media.

Deputy Inspector General of Police in Mirpur district of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir Sardar Gulfaraz said at least eight people died in the city area while 12 others, including two children, lost their lives in Jatlan, a town in Mirpur district.

Gulfaraz feared that the death toll might further rise as scores of others have been buried under the debris in the town.

The Inter-Services Public Relations, the media wing of the Pakistan army, said an immediate rescue operation in aid of civil administration for victims of the earthquake has begun as army troops with aviation and medical support teams reached the affected areas.

Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Lt. Gen. Muhammad Afzal said that rescue teams equipped with special gadgets to trace trapped people under the debris have reached the affected areas and started work.

The chairman told a press conference in Islamabad that food items, medicines, quilts, tents and generators have been sent to the affected areas. He noted that they were preparing to protect the displaced people from the coming rain spell.

Rescue teams were facing severe challenges to reach Jatlan and shift bodies and injured to hospitals because three road links to the town have been disconnected due to severe damages.

Minister for Youth and Culture of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir Muhammad Saeed told Xinhua the serious damages done to infrastructure, communication network and electricity supply, which has disrupted daily life in the district.

Several buildings have collapsed in Jatlan town, three bridges linking the town with other areas suffered serious cracks, and at least a 2-km. long road skidded into a canal, the minister said, adding that several vehicles moving at the road adjacent to a canal fell and drowned into the canal.

An eyewitness from Mirpur named Atiq-ur-Rehman told Xinhua that big cracks have appeared at roads in the district, which have disrupted traffic flow.

Dozens of houses and shops have completely collapsed while hundreds of others suffered damages in the district, reported local media, adding that a hostel building of a medical college also collapsed in Mirpur and killed one student when he jumped from the roof of the trembling building.

Several villages were inundated after a bank of the canal was broken, but authorities stopped water supply to the canal and moved villagers to safe places.

Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) announced that all the turbines of the Hydropower Station Mangla established at the River Jhelum near Mirpur were closed after the earthquake.

However, WAPDA added that the power station and the water reservoir remained safe in the earthquake.

Deputy Commissioner of Mirpur Raja Qaisar said a state of emergency has been declared in the area with an appeal to the public to be calm and offer help to affected people.

Local residents of Mirpur told Xinhua that the public hospitals lack the capacity to handle hundreds of injured as several wounded were lying at mattresses under the open sky.

According to the deputy commissioner, the government was planning to move those seriously injured to capital Islamabad and garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The earthquake hit parts of Pakistan on Tuesday. Its epicenter was determined with a depth of 10 km. at 5 km. north of Jhelum district located some 119 km. southeast of Islamabad.

The jolts were also felt in capital Islamabad and different areas of Punjab and northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces where people rushed out of the buildings to open places.

The NDMA also released a public message and asked people to take the necessary precautionary measures to avoid possible losses in case of aftershocks.

Pakistani President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed sorrow over the losses and instructed the authorities concerned to take quick and special measures to provide relief to the victims. (Xinhua)